Steve Jobs (2005) is attributed as saying, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”
When we speak about connecting the dots in education, we are talking about helping our students make connections. We want use their background knowledge to help them make sense of what they are learning today, so they will be able to build on their knowledge and experiences in the future. It can be a challenge to teach students who are either missing some dots or don’t make those connections.
When we continually consider the Big Hairy Audacious Goal (Collins), it helps us and our students to stay focused on the end goal. From my home in Louisiana, I can get in my car and head north to eventually reach Canada, but it makes sense to use a road map. Then I can keep my destination in mind as I drive through cities and towns along the way.
Our stakeholders were recently thrilled that we received a school score of a C. Apparently we have never been a C school in history. In a leadership meeting, we looked at data and realized we made the cutoff by 1%. We might’ve made a C as a fluke, but we are running with it! We are trying to remind students of how they are changing the tone of the school and changing history. Some are motivated by this, but some really don’t care. Our administration wants us to remember our BHAG. Our goal is to increase our SPS to an A. By continually reflecting on our progress, we look at where we’ve been and where we are headed. We can see ourselves getting closer and closer to Canada!
Collins, J. (2018). BHAG–Big Hairy Audacious Goal [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/BHAG.html
Jobs, S. (2005). Stanford commencement speech. Retrieved from https://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html
What is my learning philosophy and why is it important? As a teacher, what I think about learning is important because it will guide my decisions and actions. I have realized that my personal philosophy of learning is evolving along with me.
Behaviorist theorists explain that every person’s action is related to specific stimuli. They use direct observation and measurement to explain an increase or decrease in desired and undesired behavior. Many teachers with this learning philosophy use token reward systems for behavior or performance. I have also used these reward methods at times with inconsistent results. Now I understand why. In an RSA Animate video (seen here), Daniel Pink tells us that rewards might motivate students with mechanical and basic cognitive skills, but it does not work for more complicated, conceptual tasks. Instead, he insists, people long for self-direction, an urge to improve, and to be inspired. If I offer students a piece of candy to stay quiet during a lesson or to earn a perfect score on a reading test, I will probably continue to get inconsistent results.
How about cognitivism? My personal experiences as a student and teacher mostly fall into the cognitive theory of learning realm. As a student, I enjoyed graphic organizers and mnemonic devices because they helped me remember large amounts of information. Many people my age can recall that My Very Excellent Mother Served Us Nine Pizzas stands for the order of the planets as they grow in distance from the sun. Once I became a teacher, it was discovered that Pluto was not a planet, so I replaced “Nine Pizzas” with “Nachos” for my own students. Poor old Roy G. Biv was named for the colors in the spectrum of light.
I never understood why we needed the “I for indigo” in his name. At least graphic organizers, when there was a visual involved, helped me to make connections with the new information. How many times have I used these without even thinking about the impact they had for my students? I question whether it helped my students memorize facts or make meaningful connections.
Am I a constructivist? During some periods of my life, I have been. Constructivism is a learning theory that is learner-center. It involves the idea that learners consistently are adding, or constructing, new leaning by connecting new information to prior knowledge. The role of the teacher becomes to guide, motivate, and inspire. Because this theory is learner-centered, it is individualized. After teaching the first few years of my career, I became a homeschool parent. I realized in the home environment, it was easy to be a constructivist. I didn’t have a state or district curriculum to follow, and I didn’t need to be on anyone else’s timeline. I helped my daughters by providing materials, tools, and guidance. Many years later, I returned to the classroom and the more structured environment that private and public schools provide.
The more I learn and grow as a learner, the more I think I am a constructivist, which scares me, honestly. It means that, as a teacher, I should provide my students with an environment, tools, and freedom. I prefer to retain more control, but as a constructivist, I should be the “guide on the side” rather than the “sage on the stage.” Teaching involves so much more than dumping knowledge and facts into our students’ brains. My challenge, then, it to find a method of meeting my district and state criteria, on their timeline, but still allowing my students to receive a personalized education, where they have freedom to learn at their own rate and explore their interests in a meaningful way.
My innovation plan is centered on students creating and maintaining their own e-portfolios. This tool will allow me to meet my challenge of teaching my mandated curriculum at the pace that is set forth by my district while also providing opportunities for my students to create, explore, and reflect on their own learning. These e-portfolios will enable my students to take control of their learning and give them a voice. This will be powerful! The e-portfolios will enhance our classroom to create a significant learning environment.
This online article is taken from a section of his book, Teaching in a Digital Age. The author describes traditional learning theories and explains their relationship with the use of technology in education.
In this web log post, the author explains learning theories and why they are important to understand. He stresses that, with this knowledge, instructors can best use techniques to create significant learning environments.
Are you using rewards to motivate students? Does it work? Daniel Pink has challenged me to rethink what I thought I knew about motivating people. The misconception that if something is rewarded, it will occur more frequently is common. In my classroom, I hope to promote autonomy, mastery, and purpose. I fear that many times, I’ve only used rewards as a stick and carrot. So often, teachers (myself included) reward students incorrectly.
Pink asserts that external rewards will frequently work for mechanical and basic cognitive skills, but rewards don’t work for conceptual, creative thinking. This more complex thinking is what we are striving for with our students. Again, thinking about my own career. A master’s degree doesn’t accomplish much financially in for a teacher in the classroom. I am motivated to work and learn because I have an urge to improve myself. My reward is intrinsic.
Considering this, I need to ask myself, “Am I effectively rewarding behaviors I want to target?” My goal in the classroom should be more focused on students deeper learning.
That is a question I’ve been thinking about lately. After all, I know it is a learning environment. I mean, we “do” school there. I provide instruction, students complete activities, and I assess them. But is it an environment where “significant” learning takes place?
According to Merriam-Webster, for learning to be significant, it needs to have meaning. I can assure you that some of the material we study in class doesn’t hold much meaning to our students. If it doesn’t have meaning, then it can’t possibly have much influence or effect. Dr. Tony Bates (2015) reminds us that true learning isn’t just like shoveling content into the students’ brains. Instead, we want our students to gain a deeper understanding by learning how to learn. This can be applied in any content area so that it becomes lifelong practice.
I know that to create a significant learning environment for my students, I need to first focus on the needs of the learner.
I remember when I first learned about Facebook. I thought, “Why would I want to announce whatever I’m doing right now to the world?” I had never done that before, so I didn’t know why I would want to do that, or even if anybody would care. I know we need to start somewhere, but my first posts in 2009 literally announced that I was grading papers or waiting on my children to be picked up. Only two years later, I sent my first Tweet. Again, I thought, “What’s the purpose?” It really seemed that the only people tweeting were celebrities and people who WISHED they were celebrities! I had no idea that a decade later, social media would be such a significant (i.e., meaningful, influential) part of my life.
Technology along with social media has been a part of our students’ lives since they can remember. They learn by sharing their experiences with each other. They communicate and refine their ideas. Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown (2011, pg. 67) report that through technology and digital media our students’ learning can be intensified because it can be related back to their personal lives.
This blog is a platform for me to reflect and share my learning with others, to create a collaborative effort, and learn with others. I am using this digital portfolio to express my experiences with my own voice through authentic learning. It also allows me to take ownership of my learning. I want my students to have the experience of creating a digital portfolio of their learning as well. Creating a significant learning environment means allowing students to have the opportunity for deeper learning by taking ownership of their learning, having a platform for peer-to-peer interaction, and providing authentic learning. My significant learning environment will include digital portfolios.
It is so difficult to emphasize the process of learning and to take the focus from “the test,” whatever that may be. In the New Culture of Learning (2012) video, Thomas reminds us that passion, imagination, and constraint are keys to meaningful learning.
While watching the video, I was reminded of a conversation I had with my brother. He has a toddler grandson whose mother is from Asia. She has only lived in the United States a few years and English is not her first language. This little boy seemed to have a speech delay which was causing concern. However, he was listening to two differently languages intently. Although he was quiet, he was sorting out very different sounds and words. One day his speech just started pouring out, and he actually has an amazing vocabulary in two different languages. He was certainly more capable than most people would’ve thought. If his parents limited his exposure to only one language, he probably would’ve spoken sooner, but would not have the bilingual head-start he has now.
As a teacher, I struggle with the idea that I want to prepare my students for the spring assessment, but I want them to learn and have a desire to learn. If I expose them to more than just the curriculum, they might go farther than expected, but will it be enough by April? I’m excited about using technology in new ways to help expand their passion and imagination, while still living within the constraints of the curriculum.
Thomas, D. (2012). A new culture of learning. (TEDxUFM) [Video]. htps://youtu.be/lM80GXlyX0U
I know teachers are always being asked to do “that one more thing.” That one thing added to the many others can be overwhelming. But suppose “that one more thing” is just what’s needed to help our students achieve the deeper learning we all want.
When researching the idea of what would have the greatest impact on our students, I knew that creating this blog, this digital portfolio, of my learning has helped me grow tremendously. I knew that our students would also benefit from the authentic learning experience a digital portfolio provides.
I first designed a proposal. I knew that the use of digital portfolios in the classroom would be beneficial, but I need to share it with my administration and other stakeholders.
Next I developed an implementation plan outline. This is an overview of how the digital portfolio process will look in action at our school. Each faculty member and student has a part to play in the process.
Finally, I wanted to make sure the research and data supports the use of digital portfolios as a learning tool. The evidence in my litrature review shows that students do achieve deeper learning and take ownership in their learning when creating digital portfolios.
I am looking forward to watching our students excel when sharing and reflecting on their learning experiences through their portfolios even as I learn more. Although I have researched the benefits of using the digital portfolio as a tool in the classroom, there is so much more for me to learn. As we move forward, I will continue to study and develop the plan as needed. There are additional sources for me to review for our portfolios to be most effective.
Clark, H. and Avrith, T. (2017). The Google infused classroom: A guidebook to making thinking visible and amplifying student voice. Ivine, Ca: Ed Tech Team Press.
This book discusses numerous ways teachers can use technology to engage students in their learning. It encourages teachers to design instruction so that students will demonstrate their learning through authentic experiences.
Renwick, M. (2017). Digital portfolios in the classroom: Showcasing and assessing student work. Alexandria, Va: ASCD.
This book is a guide for teachers to implement digital portfolios in the classroom. It details the collection and organization of student work. One focus is the use of the portfolios as qualitative assessment.
Reynolds, C., Patton, J., & Rhodes, T. (2015). Leveraging the ePortfolio for Integrative Learning: A Faculty Guide to Classroom Practices for Transforming Student Learning. Sterling: Stylus Publishing.
This book is a guide to help make student learning visible to peers, teachers, colleges or future employers. The book also include strategies for teachers to use digital portfolios in their courses to scaffold learning and for student reflection.
The Behavioral Science Guys video really stuck with me over the last couple of weeks. I’ve seen this behavior and response in myself and others many times. It is like a default setting that I switch back to when I don’t plan what I want to say AND think about the response that I’m hoping for.
I don’t know if it is the “parent” in me, the “wife” in me, or the “teacher” in me that frequently makes me feel the need to share the information I think the other person needs to know…. sometimes I share it over and over or loudly, and then I wonder why the other person becomes defensive. As I’ve reflected on the video and the phenomenon, I think about how I react to people and sometimes become defensive or display reactance.
If I want a change in behavior or at least the acknowledgment that I change MIGHT be beneficial, it would be wise to remember the BS guys. They said to first provide a safe environment for people to explore the motives that they already have. I know that asking non-judgmental questions to help a person explore their own motives at their own pace is more likely to open the lines of communication.
Progressive education means favoring change or improvement, as opposed to wanting to maintain the status quo. There will always be people who see opportunities for growth in education and in life. We need to ensure that we become and then remain people who are willing to explore and take risks. We can use proven strategies, but also need to remain lifelong learners in education ourselves if we want to be progressive.
Seth Godin (2014) asserts that there are people who like the old; they are comfortable there, so don’t necessarily want a change. Even when the changes are positive, they are afraid of the unknown or don’t understand the new. Sometimes they just don’t want to put in the work that comes with a change.
My mom went back to college in the early 1970’s after leaving school to get married and have four children. When I was in kindergarten at a Catholic school where my siblings attended, my mom completed her student teaching in a “progressive program” at the local public school. She decided to send me there the next year for 1st and 2nd grade because they had an “open classroom” model. It allowed for a first grade and second grade class to be combined with both teachers in a large room. I remember there being centers and we were grouped according to ability for each subject, rather than grade level. I remember feeling excited to go to school to learn those two years because every day was something new. I often wonder what happened to that concept. Apparently, somebody thought it didn’t work or was too difficult to sustain.
Since I started teaching in the early 1990’s, I have seen so many strategies, methods, and tools come and go. Currently I am teaching under a grant-funded program called TAP which was created by Lowell Milken and NIET. The idea behind it is that teachers are rewarded to learn and implement best practices to become more effective teachers, thereby maximizing student learning. I wanted to teach in the TAP system to grow as an educator. There are many teachers in the program in my district who feel the same way, but unfortunately many do not. They question why they must change something they are used to doing their way. They argue that they know how their students learn best. The problem is the data doesn’t show that what they are saying is true. It is too easy to blame other causes for low performance. Instead, I look forward to seeing the impact three years of quality instruction can have on our students. Godin said when we break the rules, we do so at our own peril. We are working to break some rules, so that’s a scary thought.
I didn’t think I would be focused on a revolution this year, since I don’t teach American History. Instead, I’m focused on a learning revolution. I am currently taking a class called Disruptive Innovation in Technology, so the revolution taking place is my stance on using technology to improve the learning that takes place is my school community.
One source for the class is Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools (Horn & Staker, 2015). It is ironic that teachers don’t usually want disruptions in the classroom. We generally like to run the show. During the entire program, I have been learning that I need to give up some of that control. It is a challenge because I know where my students currently are performing and where I need them to be by the end of the year. It would seem the most efficient way to get them there is to lead them. However, for true learning to take place, I need their motivation, participation, and engagement. Because I want the most growth for each of my students, I need to take the standardized education and find a way to customize it for every individual.
I have decided to implement digital portfolios with my students. Ideally this could be an option for the entire student population at me school. Horn says that one opportunity educators have with technology is to reinvent the traditional model of education. The traditional model says that the entire group of students learns the same thing, at the same time, and at the same rate. Truthfully, teachers all know that students come to us as individuals. They have different aptitudes and interests. The digital portfolios will allow students to not only showcase their learning but provide a place for reflection also.
I am strictly tied to my curriculum which doesn’t allow much student choice or voice. Digital portfolios will allow students to showcase their aptitudes and interests, regardless of their learning rates. The reflection component of the portfolio will encourage my students to think about their thinking. Learning the technological skills necessary to create, maintain, and share their work will provide authentic learning experiences that will only enhance their educations.
I’m excited to explore all the options available and work alongside my students and colleagues to see where this revolution takes us!
Horn, Michael B. and Staker, Heather (2015). Blended: Using disruptive innovation to improve schools. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
I’ve struggled with my teaching this week. I don’t like the idea that a certain skill needs to be taught at a certain point, in a specific time frame, and using only one strategy. As a teacher, I long to build relationships with my students so I can inspire and motivate them. Sometimes, that gets lost among all the requirements and restrictions placed upon us as teachers.
The irony is that as I work in a school system that wants standardization, I want individuality. I can appreciate that some standardization is necessary, but I’m the same mom who taught my own five children (and others) at home for fifteen years. As a homeschooling parent, I noticed that there were many reasons my friends chose to teach their own children at home. My primary reason was always the fact that my children were individuals, and I could tailor their educations to their needs, interests, and abilities. I didn’t have to follow somebody else’s timeline. I knew the end goal, and I was able to continually make progress toward that finish line, even if my children each took different routes at different speeds.
I’m currently reading Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools (Horn, 2014). Horn reminded me that no two children learn at the same pace or have the same needs, even if they are the same age (p. xxvi). Understanding that concept is the key to becoming a great educator. I’m glad for that reminder.
Horn, Michael B.. Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools. Wiley. Kindle Edition.