The concept of learner agency has been integral to educational thinking and practice since the beginning: the idea that “education is the process through which learners become capable of independent thought which, in turn, forms the basis for autonomous action”, has had a profound impact on modern educational theory and practice (Trend 1: core-ed.org). Yet, lately, when I have been using the term ‘Learner Agency’ in professional development sessions and in my conversations with educators and leaders, I get the sense that they are not quite sure about how to move from talking about it to actual action.
What is it... really?
“The notion of agency as contributing to cognitive processes involved in learning comes primarily from the Piagetian notion of constructivism where knowledge is seen as “constructed” through a process of taking actions in one’s environment and making adjustments to existing knowledge structures based on the outcome of those actions. The implication is that the most transformative learning experiences will be those that are directed by the learner’s own endeavors and curiosities.” (Lindgren & McDaniel, 2012)
Another way of thinking of learner agency is when learners have “the power to act” - when learning involves activity and initiative on the part of the learner themselves, and not just the teacher, curriculum, and/or resources, etc. Consider concepts such as personalization and learn-centric or learner-centered education: these are aspects of what we might mean by learner agency, but it even goes deeper than that!
Overall there is a sense of independence and responsibility on the part of the learner: the opportunity to have choice and voice in planning, implementation, and assessment.
Making Learner Agency a Reality for our Students
Involving the learners in the decision-making is a must. These decisions will place more ownership and empowerment on the part of students. Teachers must become comfortable with changing their leadership style from directive to consultative -- from "Do as I say" to "Based on your needs, let's co-develop and implement a plan of action together."
Meaningful change must begin with active student involvement. Advocacy, choice, and voice should occur in the classroom as well as in any learning environment. Relevance and value on the part of our learners are central elements to success.
It has been sometime since I have posted to this blog, but it is for good reason. I have been out on Maternity leave and now, more then ever before, I have a new perspective on the future, the work I do with educators has never been more important.
I look at my son and try to image what education will look like when he begins school - in just five years, what technology will we have, what expectations will we have for learning, what will engage my son when it comes to learning.
Expect new posts and insights now that I am starting back up with my work and jumping in to continue to support and coach those responsible for our greatest commodity, the most important product we can produce -- our children.
“When professionals share their talents and skills, they help the whole school develop a collective wisdom.” ~ Robert Marzano
And now that the devices are in the hands of students in all of their 32 schools, the Alamance-Burlington Schools district has turned to a researched practice that not only makes a tremendous impact on the culture of our public schools, but expounds upon collaboration, increases rigor, and propels the capacity of all stakeholders at twice the expected rate of return: they have begun implementing instructional rounds, or Learning Walks.
This collaborative practice is based on the medical model or rounds. The practice has been further developed for school administrators to observe and discuss best practices in the classroom, and modified to enable educators to conduct their own instructional rounds focused on self reflection and growth designed to begin discussions of instruction directly into the process of school improvement. In other words, this simple process creates a common language, common discipline, common focus, common purpose, and common problems.
You can talk about Learning Walks, but to truly understand this experience and it’s associated benefits, you have to experience it – you have to ‘walk the walk’. It is important that all involved understand the purpose of the walks and that they are introduced in a non-threatening way. Although schools and districts will initiate learning walks in various ways, several strategies are critical to gain buy-in: In this case, Alamance Burlington committed all it’s leadership to experience a full day of learning walks spanning schools across their district. Leaders had the opportunity to sign up for one of four days of instructional rounds, each with their own area of focus aligned with district expectations for digital learning and teaching – Management of a Digital Learning Classroom, Content & Instruction, Using Technology to Differentiate Learning, and The 4 C’s.
Along with these focus areas, each with criteria and questions, Leadership was also asked to observe student engagement, learning goals and progress tracking, student understanding of new knowledge practices and /or deepened, and how expectations are communicated to all students, etc..
During instructional rounds, small groups of three to five people make relatively brief observations of educators in action. These observations are longer than a typical “walkthrough” (i.e., longer than a few minutes), but usually shorter than an entire class period. When engaged in rounds, groups conduct as many substantive observations of classrooms as possible within part of a day or the entire day.
These rounds are a non-evaluative, structured approach to get educators into each other’s classrooms to see the teaching and learning that is taking place. Cultivating a meaningful professional learning process for improving teaching and learning, and promoting a truly collaborative learning community, requires ongoing effort from all stakeholders involved.
The primary purpose is for those making the observations to compare their practices with those observed in the classrooms they visit, and it is the discussion at the end of a set of instructional rounds and the subsequent self‐reflection by observers that is their chief benefit.
PROTOCOL | How it works
Remember, during an instructional round rotation you are only going to get a snapshot of teachers and students in action, the goal is focusing on what you observe during a specific interval of time. Consider the context of the environment, content, pedagogical practices, and the decision to use digital tools and resources to enhance student-centered learning.
Before Entering: Briefly check in as a group and redress the key focus of the Instructional round observation and purpose. Knock at the door and then quietly move to an area of the room that does not disrupt the flow of instruction.
In the Classroom: Observe. Participants actively observe both the educator(s) and students in action: noting not only the focus of the learning walks that day, but also engagement, progress tracking, collaboration, how expectations are communicated, etc. Participants are not just a fly on the wall, however, and are encouraged to ask students questions and clarify understanding.
Exiting Classroom: IMMEDIATELY take a moment in the hallway to synthesise your observation into learning notes.
Debrief: As a group we will convene to reflect, synthesize on our experiences through collaborative activities to answer the following: what did you see? What could this mean for your schools? How will you bring it back to your schools? What are key components you gained insights on based on the day’s specific focus area?
Below is a sampling of principals’ comments made during post-walk conversations:
With adequate professional capacity building in instructional rounds and proper implementation, this process can positively impact collaboration and team decision making concerning instructional design, classroom management, the implementation of digital tools and resources to support curriculum and instruction, as well as support data-driven decision making. The reaction and energy shared in Alamance-Burlington in these first few instructional round experiences was one of overwhelming success with plans to make learning walks an expectational norm in every school!
Learn more about instructional rounds and learning walks on our Learning Walks At-A-Glance post by Dr. Lisa Hervey.
Kachur, D., Stout, J., & Edwards, C. (2013). Engaging teachers in classroom walkthroughs. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Feeney, E. (2014). Design Principles for Learning to Guide Teacher Walk Throughs. Clearing House, 87(1), 21-29.
Allen, A. S., & Topolka-Jorissen, K. (2014). Using teacher learning walks to build capacity in a rural elementary school: repurposing a supervisory tool. Professional Development In Education, 40(5), 822-837
Back by an overwhelming popular demand, the Coaching Digital Learning: Cultivating a Culture of Change Massive Open Online Course for Educators is back! I am spending my time tweaking and updating our course for educators and coaches alike...
Coaching educators to create digital learning environments is a challenging, important, and highly collaborative role. Individuals who play this role are instrumental in cultivating a digital, personalized blended learning culture within their school, district and/or state. This course allows you to learn along with your colleagues from other schools and districts to enhance your digital learning content knowledge and further develop coaching strategies.
Registration is open now!!
The eighth annual Coaching Digital Learning Institute (CDLI), organized by the Professional Learning and Leading Collaborative (PLLC) team, in partnership with the Golden LEAF Foundation, was unique: the facilitators leading the capacity building sessions and hands on learning activities were all volunteers who have previously attended past CDLI events or other Friday Institute capacity building trainings and cohorts. This year, the students truly became the teachers.
“It’s absolutely, 110 times different… These are people that work with children, they work every day with elementary, middle school, high school students. They work with the teachers that are working with the kids. So you know they’re not going to encourage you to use something that’s not effective,” said Beth Davis, an academic coach at Graham High School in the Alamance-Burlington School System.
The CDLI is designed to support K-12 instructional technology facilitators, those taking the lead in implementing digital transitions in their schools and districts. CDLI builds capacity and enhances professional development, practice, and adds mobile and digital tools and resources to expand learning and teaching environments.
This year’s theme centered on a quote by Sir Arthur Charles Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” As the ones charged with assisting the growth of digital learning and teaching in North Carolina schools and districts, these educators aren’t just coaching and supporting technology, they are coaching and supporting magic. This doesn’t mean pretending to saw students in half; educational technology provides and supports “magical” experiences to all stakeholders in schools undergoing digital transitions.
“I often have people come into my office, or I’m in their classroom when they’ve called for help... and they say, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re magic’,” said Tracey Patterson, a librarian at Graham. “They literally say things like that to those of us that work with [tech tools] all the time.”
Watch the video below to see what participating teachers had to say when we asked them about this year’s theme.
Not every attendee this year was a North Carolinian. Because of a previous partnership between the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation and Ohio’s Trailblazer Teachers program, sponsored in partnership with Battelle, five coaches traveled from Ohio to participate in the training so they could give back and share their work with others.
“Honestly, the Trailblazer program really ignited something in me to push forward and to really just try and get the word out on how to integrate technology and blended learning. We all feel the same way, that’s why we’re all here,” said Casey Clark, English teacher at North Canton Hoover High School in Canton, Ohio.
This annual professional capacity building opportunity is designed for instructional technology facilitators, media coordinators, instructional specialists, and technology-driven educators and mentoring staff, positions that are often overlooked in traditional professional development offerings.
“It seems like all the [professional development] is tools, there’s not a lot about coaching,” said Clark. “No one really talks about coaching technology. It just doesn’t exist. It’s kind of a shame.”
Clark noted that, in a district of 300 teachers, he is the only person learning how to coach others to implement blended and digital learning practices. He said training, like that offered by the CDLI, helps coaches learn not only how to use technology in the classroom, but also how to get tech tools to teachers and students effectively and with purpose.
“I don’t know why [coaching professional development isn’t available], and that’s a problem,” said Clark. “It’s a need that needs to be filled, right now.”
Through providing professional learning programs, developing educational resources, conducting research, and advocacy, the PLLC team and the Friday Institute are working to address this immediate need.
This is a great question and there are just so many ways I could answer, but this is a tremendously important reflective process to do on a regular basis because your answer will, obviously, change over time.
I am a people person, though I have not always considered myself one. I am an 'introverted extrovert' and I find that many of the instructional coaches I meet define themselves the same way. It's the relationship building, the creation of trust and collaboration, and inspiring and empowering others that I find is not only a strength, but what makes this work so rewarding.
The fastest way I have found success fostering relationships is to meet people where they are in their capacity, knowledge, skills, and even emotionally. I tap into their level of concern and THAT is my starting point. Furthermore, I don't package any of the professional learning I deliver - everything is customized for the needs and strengths of a given educator or district. Just today I had an educator share with me that they appreciated that I "get them" and the job they do everyday. And it helps to be both professional and playful - you just gotta laugh and have fun sometimes, and my capacity building sessions are a combination of these two. Everything I do as a coach centers around relationships and trust and I am so thankful I have this strength.
However, it is also a challenge when that relationship does not develop in a way that enables me to quickly support and build capacity. It may be the culture of a school or district I am working within - the need for collaboration and sharing are not commonplace and thus a struggle even to get started - but this can't be a deterrent. If I can't make the connection, I find someone who can, a colleague, a student, someone to open that door so the coaching can happen.
I am always striving to improve myself and my skills, being open to learn from others, reading everything I can get my hands on, and staying connected to my professional learning network, both in the office and online. I learn SO much from my colleagues in the field and together we strive to improve together.
But no matter what, we must remember to celebrate - celebrate the big successes and the small. We even need to celebrate when we 'Fail Forward' and things don't work out like we planned. It is in failing that we learn, and the sooner we embrace it, learn from it, and try again, the stronger we will all be.
For many of us the idea of Virtual Reality in the classroom is the stuff of science fiction, but today it is a reality: from the traditional desktop/laptop to the fully immersive virtual experience via wearable VR.
Imagine teaching history where your students can explore the historic buildings of Ancient Rome, or be able to walk around Athens or Greece. Consider studying the ecosystem of the ocean while sitting at it’s bottom, or using a virtual scalpel to dissect that digital frog. Virtual Reality can be used in so many areas of curriculum and in as many ways as your imagination can come up with.
These fully immersive setups include tracking systems that records and analyses students movements in the virtual space, showing the illusions of depth that only adds to the experience. So students can actively immerse themselves in the content and explore complex subject, theories and concepts.
This is an immersive experience for everyone. With the help of your smart phone, and a cardboard interface, (buying one can be as little as $8, or you can make your own with the amazing help from instructables.com). All you do is drop your phone in and start exploring. The Google Cardboard apps are extensive and there is a little bit of everything, and Google Cardboard for Education has excellent ideas for use and lesson planning.
Some of my favorite Google Cardboard apps include:
Titans of Space:
Titans of Space is, in my own opinion, the best educational app available for the Google Cardboard. Even with a really simple VR technology like the Cardboard, Titans of Space manages to convey the awesomeness of our universe in an incredible VR experience.
Discovery VR is a VR adventure that will let you explore our world with 360° dynamic videos. Excellent use of VR to teach about ecology, conservation, adventure and exploration. We all know that the resolution of 360° videos need to be improved for a great virtual reality experience, but Discovery VR is still a must have for educational apps for the Google Cardboard.
InMind VR is a great educational VR game that will take on a journey into the patient’s brains in search of the neurons that cause mental disorder. This experience might be less educational that other apps in this top 5, it’s still a must for all of you interested in educational VR apps.
I also really like Random 42 that will let you take a visually stunning and scientifically accurate 3D ride inside the human body. Egyptian Mysteries, an immersive investigation game in the ancient Egypt. Egyptian Mysteries uses the immersive aspect of the Google Cardboard to take you on a trip in the ancient Egypt, a must try.
I recently had the opportunity to check out the VR system zSpace. zSpace brands itself as the “ultimate immersive learning experience” that allows students to interact with objects and understand the concepts behind them. With zSpace, students can learn highly engaging tasks that are often too complex, expensive, and dangerous for the classroom. It is truly something that needs to be seen to be believed.
Its truly stunning and realistic learning environment touted lessons and virtual experiences. The system included science labs, lessons on geography and history, as well as physics simulations. I “held” a virtual human heart in my hand and could feel it beating – SO cool and creepy at the same time.
I am so excited to feature both Google Cardboard and zSpace at my upcoming Coaching Digital Learning Institute and hope to learn even more when I get the chance to play with it again. Please share any favorite VR apps, tools, and/or tricks in the comments below.
This blog is inspired by the Ed Tech Coaches Network Blog Challenge #ETCoaches .
Planning for change can be difficult and it may be hard to know where to start. Recently I had to opportunity to plan a Leadership Event sponsored by the Golden LEAF Foundation, an organization who's mission is to increase economic opportunity in North Carolina’s rural and tobacco-dependent communities through leadership in grants-making, collaboration, innovation, and stewardship as an independent and perpetual foundation.
Together we assembled over 120 leaders and educators from fourteen districts across North Carolina, and I had the privilege to design and facilitate an activity to get their minds buzzing and some action items in place to make the transition. The activity was so simple and effective, I wanted to share.
Get your team together and ask them, on 3x5 cards to write individually, a BOLD headline that reflects where they would like to see their district/school's digital learning initiative (at the end of the school year? at the end of four years? you chose what works best for your discussion).
With that bold headline written, then it is time to mix things up.
Each participant then trades cards and keeps trading until the facilitator says to stop.
Then, with a new card in hand, each participant ranks the headline, 1-5 (5 being the highest).
Write this rank in a corner of the card.
Repeat this process (mix up and rank) until all four corners have a rank.
The Headlines with the highest rank added - Highest would be the number 25 - are what the team will now focus on. Select the top two - four, depending on the size of your group. Split group up for the next part, each with their own headline from the top picks.
Now it is time for action. In order to make this Headline a reality, the team will now create a TOP TEN list of action items. This list is the pathway to start to make change happen.
Not only does this get the gears turning, but it produces results that CAN and WILL happen for your growth and change.
See this facilitation TACKK with step by step instructions.
The International Society for Technology in Education Conference is, in one word, HUGE! This was my fourth year attending the conference (this year in Denver, CO) and my second year facilitating poster sessions and workshops. It is a great place to make and reestablish connections, a place where I get a pulse check on what is happening in the world of Ed Tech, and the opportunity to check out what is up and coming.
Amidst the frenzied lines to see the Google Playground, the awesome factor of the EscapeEDU School Bus, and the closed out sessions of one more MindCraft Edu panel (there were SO many of those), the entrepreneurs' hub in the ISTE Expo hall is one of the places I like most.
There I spoke with three highly passionate and dedicated educators who are giving back and have developed resources worthy of the classroom, aligned to pedagogy, and with teachers and student centered learning at the forefront of their design decisions.
Reading Log Cabin bravewingsapps.com
Available for apple and android, The Reading Log Cabin is an app for children as young as Pre-K to complete their reading logs. I had a chance to speak with Evelyn Moldal and she was so excited to share this app and her love of teaching and learning.
Code Monkey playcodemonkey.com
Learn real programming by playing a fun and intuitive game. I spoke with Jonathan Schor about this educational game environment where students learn to code in a real programming language. Using CoffeeScript, a modern open-source programming language, the students will be able to develop and generate unique and personalized apps and websites. CodeMonkey fosters the development of executive functioning skills such as problem solving and planning as well as geometric and mathematical thinking.
Writing Project thewritingproject.com
Students write their essays through a combination of brainstorming, questions, evidence, description and analysis. This is the resource and ideas I was geeking out about the most. I spoke with Hames Matechuk and he explained this app helps students by giving them prompts and hints when writing essays, papers, etc. As a parent with a student who struggles with writing structure and form, I could not be more excited for a tool like this to empower our kids abilities to write and write well.
Denver was amazing, I learned, I hiked Pikes Peak, and connected with over 400 educators in my ISTE sessions. The energy and impact these educators make every day is overwhelmingly awesome. Thank you, ISTE, and I'll see you next year in San Antonio.
This year we hosted over 130 participants and facilitators from across North Carolina, all of whom broke down the barriers and encouraged each other to "TAKE CHANCES, MAKE MISTAKES & GET MESSY" with our 'Magic School Bus' theme.
This year Participants...
Jaclyn coaches and assists K-12 educators, ITFs, and Administrators to adapt, not adopt – fostering digital initiatives to transform professional learning through changes in pedagogical shifts and meeting the needs of all learners to champion creativity and innovation. @jaclynbstevens