Dr. Tim Clark promotes Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) and digital learning to empower students and teachers with their personal technology tools for building learning communities.
We’ve all heard the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” While the bears were away, the hungry little girl, Goldilocks, entered their cabin and tasted their porridge. However, one was too hot, and another one was too cold. Finally, baby bear’s porridge was just right, and she ate it all up. Likewise, as teachers design digital learning experiences based on their students’ personal strengths and interests, they need to search for the “just right” instructional resources to meet their students’ varied needs.
With the use of the technology for digital lesson design and delivery, teachers have powerful tools that make it easy to communicate with students; manage the virtual classroom; provide access to instructional resources; and track student mastery of learning standards. Yet despite all that functionality, teachers still face additional ongoing challenges.
Teachers are now engaged in a time-intensive daily process of designing digital instruction from resources they find on the Internet. A recent survey noted that teachers spend up to seven hours per week searching for instructional resources and another five hours designing their own instructional materials. (Marci Goldberg of K-12 Market Advisors)
The seamless integration of interoperable technology resources within an intentionally designed digital learning ecosystem can provide teachers with the necessary digital lesson design tools and access to curated learning objects that are vetted for quality and correlated to learning standards. This digital content may include resources licensed from publishers; curated open educational resources; and teacher-created resources that are shared throughout the district.
As districts prioritize the process of curating instructional resources and making them readily accessible, teachers can begin designing digital instruction more effectively. The following strategies are important to remember during the process of selecting digital resources while designing lessons:
Focus on the Standards – Teachers should utilize content that is correlated to learning standards to make an instructional difference for each learner. After identifying the essential skills embedded within the standard, the teachers can determine what processes or products might demonstrate understanding. Teachers should be able to conduct a search for standards-correlated content and embed it in their assignments. These assignments should be designed to help students show mastery of a particular concept or skill.
Scaffold Understanding – Within the design of a lesson that incorporates digital content, teachers should scaffold understanding. How are those resources being used to engage student learning? Online discussions can include curated content. At the beginning of a lesson, questions can set the stage for new learning and help students focus on the core components of a concept or process. Video within a lesson should be used purposefully and with short clips (less than a few minutes) to stimulate questions and critical thinking. Directions need to be clear, yet minimal, so that students can utilize critical thinking when solving problems. Finally, there should be a variety of types of formative and summative assessments provided so that students have multiple risk-free opportunities to demonstrate learning and ensure success.
Plan for Interaction – After students view video or another form of digital content, they should be encouraged to interact and collaborate with each other to construct new meanings from that information. Students can participate in discussions to pose new questions and ideas about their learning. Assignments can be collaborative to support students working together to solve problems. Teachers can use digital content to help students compare and contrast new concepts in these collaborative groups, and students can create authentic products to demonstrate their learning.
Utilize a Variety of Content – As with all forms of media being shared with students, teachers must carefully preview all digital content. Teachers should consider the needs and expectations of their learning communities – the age of the students and the values of the community – before utilizing digital content for instructional purposes. In addition to the use of video, other types of digital content should be utilized for instruction, including interactives, images, audio files, documents, and eBooks.
Personalize Learning Experiences – Students have unique talents, abilities, and differences that can pose challenges to the one-size fits all classroom. By personalizing learning experiences, teachers can help students identify the pathways that meet their individual learning needs and interests. A teacher could begin helping students identify their strengths through a learning style inventory or interest checklist, but digital content can also be used meaningfully to differentiate learning experiences. One way that this can be accomplished is by designing personalized playlists correlated to learning standards and assigning them to students based on their learning needs.
Like Goldilocks who consumed the bear’s “just right” porridge, through intentional lesson design, today’s digital age students can engage with the “just right” digital content so that they can experience academic success and make the most out of every teachable moment. Those students may even become producers of their own “just right” original content that they are ready to share with others.
In our digitally connected world, most of us have become curators of content as we utilize the technology tools in our pockets to interact with each other. We practice curation for both personal and professional reasons by saving our favorite links, images, videos, and other resources, which we have either found ourselves or have been shared with us. In turn, we usually share this curated content with each other through social media, email, text messages, etc. We can then carefully curate the information that we assemble and organize on social media, as it collectively becomes our representation of our digital selves. Even this blog is another example of curation, as I often include the links to other sources that I find valuable, and arrange my thoughts, ideas, and illustrations into a cohesive whole.
Although most of us participate in daily content curation, many people frequently make mistakes in the types of content that they share online and damage their reputations and/or digital footprints. The content in these situations may be inappropriate, lack authenticity, or distract from the intended message. These concerns are relevant to both personal and professional attempts at content curation and necessitate a purposeful, focused, and methodic approach to this task
In my last blog post, Curation for Digital Learning, I detailed the reasons why schools and districts should engage in content curation to facilitate digital learning. I also listed the activities that are involved in content curation, specifically within K-12 learning environments. Now, to better nurture digital learning ecosystems, this blog post contains an overview of some specific strategies that schools and districts can undertake to begin, execute, and sustain a successful plan for content curation. I have attempted to list the strategies in order; however, once the process of content curation is initiated by a school district, many activities begin to happen concurrently, and there may be some overlap in timing as different teams and individuals begin to fulfill their roles and responsibilities within that process.
1. Design a comprehensive strategic plan for curation.
Different departments within school and districts often pursue their own disparate plans for new initiatives and seldom have a written plan for implementation. Because content curation requires a comprehensive strategy that involves everyone in the district, it is necessary to spend some time reflecting about this process and brainstorming about the requisite curation strategies. Likewise, mutually acceptable goals and objectives should be collaboratively established for content curation. Ultimately, this plan should be continually revisited and occasionally modified to remain current, relevant, and adaptable to accommodate changes in personnel, new goals and initiatives, and innovations in instructional practices and technology. The remaining strategies in this list should be included within the district’s overall plan for content curation.
2. Specify what content needs to be curated and created.
Within a district’s plan for curation, content serves various purposes and originates from various sources. A district can begin this process by conducting an inventory and review of its current instructional content. Some of these instructional resources may be available within a digital format to better connect students to engaging content at any time and place while using their own technology tools or devices provided by the district. Districts may already be subscribing to resources that will fulfill some of their content curation needs and purposes. These resources may be provided by various publishers of digital content. Other resources may be available from open educational resources that can be found online or acquired from the content that the district or its teachers have already identified. Once district personnel have completed this inventory of available resources, there may be a need to source additional content to further address instructional needs or learning initiatives. Any content that is determined to be unavailable to procure from external sources may need to be created internally within the district and included within the overall body of curated resources.
3. Organize and train teams in content curation at multiple levels.
A school or district needs to realize that curation is a process and will require organization and training at multiple levels from district-level to school-level personnel. This organization may require that teams will need to be involved in different aspects of curation process. Some teams may need to focus on specific subject areas, grade levels, or even instructional strategies. Other teams may focus on how the different resources are being utilized to facilitate teaching and learning. District-level teams may focus on the goals and objectives of a specific department and include the on-going review of resources that are being shared by schools. School-level teams may include lead teachers and department chairs who represent grade levels and content areas and curate the resources that are utilized by teachers daily for instruction. Teams may also be composed of media and technology specialists who regularly deal with curation of learning resources, an understanding of copyright information, and the use of technology platforms and tools for curation. Content curation teams should have clear goals and objectives, and the individuals involved should have determined roles and responsibilities. Finally, each team should operate under well-defined expectations and deliverables to be accountable for its success.
4. Outline the logistics of when, where, and how to curate content.
Because multiple individuals will be involved in the district’s content curation strategy, they may need to follow a consistent set of procedures of when, where, or how they will curate content. They will need time to fulfill their responsibilities, and the district will need to consider how to provide that time. They may also require additional equipment or resources for curation that will need to be made available. These logistics should be clearly documented within the district’s overall plan for curation. Finally, it may be necessary to develop specific forms or templates for recording the logistics for how each team will complete its assigned tasks in curation.
5. Develop a strategy for contextualizing curated content.
Individual items of content, otherwise known as learning objects, may have limited meaning when each resource is looked at separately. Curators will need to consider any metadata or additional information that is necessary to provide meaningful context to those resources. This information may include descriptive details such as key words, tags, correlations to standards, intended grade level, student interests, etc. Context can also be provided with how the curated content is packaged together into a cohesive whole such as within a playlist, individual lessons, or a comprehensive digital curriculum. Determining who is responsible for completing the above tasks and providing that context is another aspect of the content curation process.
6. Construct a rubric to assess content for quality.
Because the content is curated from many sources and by different individuals, it is important that the curators are utilizing a rubric or checklist to help ensure quality. Again, the design of this rubric should include whatever specific goals and strategies that the district determines are essential for the learning objects to reflect, and should support the district’s overall digital learning initiative. Some evaluative aspects that could be addressed within the rubric include student engagement, flexibility of resources, accuracy of information, or other pertinent details. A school or district may also want to consider having different levels (school and district) of evaluation to ensure that the best resources are selected for curation.
7. Determine how content should be stored, accessed, and sustained.
There are a variety of digital platforms available for curating content. Some digital tools and resources make it easy for teachers to begin locating and sharing resources informally, but these platforms may not support an overall sustainable and equitable content curation strategy. Some platforms also focus more on instructional design or class management rather than on the curation of resources from a variety of content providers. Districts also need to consider interoperability among the digital platforms within their digital learning ecosystem to ensure that teachers and students have a seamless experience in accessing and utilizing these resources. Perhaps most importantly, districts should determine that any curated resources can be readily migrated from one platform to another, as necessary, since the needs and direction of the district tend to change over time.
8. Communicate about curated content to the intended users.
As resources are being curated for instructional purposes, districts will need to consider how they will communicate about the new resources and where they will be located for the intended users. Teachers and students are often unaware of where to find the resources that are being curated by district. The district may choose to send out a weekly newsletter of new content that has been curated and the intended purposes for those resources. They may also want to provide recorded webinars or other information about how to locate curated content. Having a consistent location and process for accessing the curated content will make it easier for everyone involved to know exactly where to search to better implement those resources for teaching and learning.
9. Provide professional learning in the use of curated content.
In addition to knowing how to locate curated content and utilize any platforms involved in this process, teachers will also need ongoing training for their role in the process of curation and in how to use curated resources for instruction. There may be different expectations for how that content is to be used, which would influence the training that is provided. For example, some of the curated objects may include interactive simulations, materials for research, specific units of study, or even digital lessons that each require their own specific training. A district may find it helpful to organize teams focused on various aspects professional learning and differentiate among training on how to utilize a platform; how to locate quality resources; or how to incorporate specific resources within instruction. An ongoing professional learning plan will help a district in achieving the instructional goals for their content curation strategy.
There is no one-size-fits-all content curation strategy that works for every school or district. Because every learning community has its own specific needs, challenges, and strengths, the above strategies may need to be modified to address those differences. In future blog posts, I am planning on exploring these strategies to provide more specific details and resources about the content curation process to benefit digital learning.
Schools and districts are now utilizing an influx of digital tools, content, and platforms with several hopeful intentions. With the use of these resources, educators are planning to better engage student learning, increase academic performance; and prepare students for an ever-changing digital world. Whether the technology devices are owned by the students and brought to school as part of a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative or provided by the district, teachers and students are using these tools and accessing online platforms to transform learning experiences by developing new ways to connect with each other and digital content.
Although greater access to technology tools and devices has increased, with public schools now providing at least one computer for every five students and ensuring high-speed Internet connections (Education Week, 2016), these resources are still not fully achieving their desired goals. There are many possible reasons why teachers are still struggling to use technology to transform instruction. While districts have rushed to provide teachers with access to technology tools, platforms, and the Internet, most have not spent time curating the digital content necessary for teachers to maximize the potential of these resources. Of course, many districts have also increased their subscriptions to digital content providers, but to strategically curate digital content is a different initiative that requires its own comprehensive plan.
In a professional learning session, a teacher once complained to me that her district was technology rich, but resource poor. However, the district had placed greater emphasis on acquiring devices and the use of learning platforms for classroom management over the curation of digital content. Consider that in the past, teachers were usually provided with a textbook that included most of their necessary instructional resources. While simultaneously reducing the expenditures on print resources and raising funds for technology purchases, many districts eliminated textbooks and provided teachers with devices. Now, many teachers are engaged in a time-intensive daily process of designing digital instruction from resources they find on the Internet, in addition to learning how to use new technology tools, while attempting to increase student engagement and academic performance.
Content Curation Activities
A district’s strategic focus on the curation of digital content for its teachers and students can help to facilitate the transition to a digital learning ecosystem. Curation for this ecosystem entails more than just collecting, gathering, and organizing. The process of curation involves the following purposeful activities:
- Selecting content at multiple levels and from diverse sources
- Evaluating content for quality, including relevance and authenticity
- Creating essential content that cannot be located externally
- Annotating content to provide meaning and context
- Organizing content to facilitate searching and productivity
- Storing content to ensure safe, reliable, and equitable access
- Archiving content that may no longer be relevant
- Deleting content that is no longer necessary
- Communicating about content to the expected users
- Sustaining the content with a thorough plan of action
Reasons for Content Curation
Although the strategic process of curation has often been overlooked by K-12 school districts, it has been a regular practice in higher education, museums, and libraries, and its necessity to business continues to grow in importance with the need to inform and educate workers and customers due to the abundance of information readily available online in the digital age. Likewise, there are numerous reasons why the task of curating content should be systematically implemented within K-12 school districts, including the following:
- Preserving instructional time
- Utilizing resources more effectively
- Providing greater access to content
- Promoting equity among users
- Protecting digital rights
- Supporting online safety
- Encouraging innovation
- Saving money and resources
- Ensuring quality in content
- Nurturing a sense of community
Without purposeful curation, it is impossible to realize the full impact of digital learning resources and initiatives. There would be no consistent approach to the acquisition and use of digital content to inform the improvement of teaching and learning practices. Not only does curation help to ensure the quality of resources that are being utilized for instruction, but it also promotes equity, especially when those resources are incorporated within an accessible digital curriculum. In my next blog post, I will explore various strategies for content curation.
Editorial Projects in Education Research Center. (2016, February 5). Issues A-Z: Technology in Education: An Overview. Education Week. Retrieved January 6, 2017 from http://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/technology-in-education/
This post is part of a series about the Building Blocks for Personalized Learning. By engaging in opportunities to make connections beyond the classroom to real-world learning activities and situations, students are better able to experience personalized learning. These connections may occur within a school’s own learning community, but they may also include local or even global pursuits that help students learn more about themselves while making a contribution; participating in a work experience; or attending an off-campus educational environment. When students make these connections, the learning is more authentic, relevant, and in turn becomes more personalized to their individual perspectives and goals.
Strategies for Connection
Encourage Service Learning – According to the National Service Learning Clearinghouse, service learning is “a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.” Students must be provided with opportunities to give of their time and talents to improve their learning and living communities. Joe Bandy, the Assistant Director of the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University, describes several benefits for students that are directly related to the goals of personalized learning. One benefit is that by helping others, students are able to learn more about themselves and discover and develop their individual skills and abilities.
Provide Ways for Students to Serve within the School – Some schools begin the year by suggesting various ways that students can volunteer in the learning community, such as working in a school store; assisting a teacher or media specialist; offering support to an office; organizing special events or school activities; being active in a club or group; or participating in a safety patrol. Classrooms could be given a section of the school environment to beautify and maintain in order to encourage a sense of connection. Even typical classroom jobs give younger students the experience of contributing to their classroom learning community, and older students could be buddy readers for younger students or collaborators with technology and projects. Students of any age can offer technical support for their peers and teachers within a “genius bar.” This resource may be especially important as schools are implementing 1:1 technology initiatives, Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT), and new digital learning tools and resources.
Locate Experts to Share Experiences – Schools and teachers can help students develop greater connections by identifying experts to share their experiences. One way to begin this process is to utilize the expertise of parents and teachers. When students hear about the paths that professionals have taken to achieve their careers and learn about specific occupations, they are able to make more informed goals and choices for their futures. It is also beneficial for the community members as they begin to feel more connected to their local schools. The use of digital tools and resources, can facilitate the connection with experts outside of the local community. According to Lock (2015) in Designing Learning to Engage in the Global Classroom, through “this change in the learning landscape and with the advances in technology, students and educators are better able to work with other students and experts in new and meaningful ways at anytime and anywhere in the world.”
Collaborate with Local Organizations – There may be organizations within the community that can provide additional ways for students to contribute; to offer volunteer services, or to receive ongoing support. Some organizations focus on particular issues or groups with specific needs and interests within a community, for example, the Latin American Association, the food bank, churches, sports clubs, etc. Many of these organizations are already involved in some kind of local service or outreach, and as students begin interacting with them, they can better understand how a community works as a unit; is organized by its members; and collaborates to make necessary changes to benefit everyone. Observing this interaction in the ‘adult world’ reflects what we want for students to understand about interdependence in their worlds – in their schools and communities. Through these experiences, they may learn more about themselves and their passions and interests. Reaching out to these organizations can be begin with parents at the school, but it may require some careful research into what resources are available and appropriate for student involvement.
Connect with Local Businesses – By connecting with businesses, students are able to learn more about the types of local occupations that are available. Having students participate in internships can facilitate this connection. This work experience is valuable for students as they make choices about college and/or careers. Finding the right fit is important and will help students discover more about themselves and their abilities as they engage in real work. The National Research Council (2012) noted that work-based learning activities can also provide “employability” or “21st Century” skills and serve as a foundation for lifelong learning in a time of rapid technological change. Each school should develop its own database of business contacts, and connecting with the local Chamber of Commerce might be a good way to begin this database. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also provides multiple resources for high school students for career planning.
Provide Connections to Higher Education – Connecting with institutions of higher education is also another way of helping students develop greater understanding about what personally excites them concerning careers and education. Many colleges and universities offer summer youth summer programs, and with these experiences, students may discover new unique talents. These activities are often offered for free or at a lower cost for students from low income families. Colleges are also a wealth of resources for connecting with experts in in particular fields who could be good sources of information for the classroom. In addition, many colleges and high schools offer dual enrollment for students who are willing and capable to participate in classes outside of high school allowing for a district to truly personalize an educational path for a student with special needs or talents. Most districts already have information about these programs, but they need to ensure that the information is accessible and communicated to teachers, parents, and students.
Facilitate Global Connections – Students often have difficulty seeing beyond their local communities and having a clear picture of themselves as members of a global community. Beginning with their own country and expanding throughout the world, students could discover more about opportunities that exist for making global connections. This year, ISTE Connects published a blog post called 6 Resources for Fostering Global Education that provided some practical advice for educators to help students make global connections regardless of exceptions in age, language, or economics. Technology offers a variety of ways for classrooms to connect with each other throughout the world, and this provides students with a greater awareness of how they personally can participate within a global community.
Market the Success – When students began to bridge the connection between their personal interests and aspirations to the available resources within the community at large, it is necessary to begin marketing and publishing this success. Not only is the recognition from marketing positive for the school to showcase its efforts, but it also benefits the members of the community. This marketing allows community members to highlight how they are collaborating with their local schools and providing ongoing support. Some marketing strategies include publishing a video to document success; noting the activities on the school’s website; and curating student portfolios. Many schools also have their own site-based news broadcast, and these experiences can be shared via this medium throughout the school. Incidentally, participating in the production of the school news is another way that students can volunteer their talents while developing new skills! These strategies help to communicate what students have learned and what they have accomplished.
In their book, A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, Thomas and Brown explain, “In our view, the kind of learning the will define the twenty-first century is not taking place in a classroom – at least not in today’s classroom. Rather, it is happening all around us, everywhere, and it is powerful” (17). Ideally, as students make connections, they may be better prepared to make personal choices about future careers; set goals for future learning; and find greater fulfillment in life.
This post is part of a series about the Building Blocks for Personalized Learning. It is necessary for teachers to nurture the development of a Community within their classrooms in order to facilitate personalized learning. Each student needs to feel empowered within the learning environment to explore individual interests and passions. Consider the type of community in which you would thrive. How would you describe that environment? Generally, people describe an effective neighborhood community as friendly, supportive, secure, vibrant, participatory, and innovative. Designing this type of learning environment within each classroom is equally important. Students need to experience similar qualities in their classroom communities in order to achieve personal academic success.
Qualities of Community
Trust – I have previously blogged about the quality of trust (Learning to TRUST with Responsible Use) as my school district made the shift from an Acceptable Use Policy to Responsible Use Guidelines. When students are using technology tools and digital resources to engage in personalized learning activities, teachers have to be able to trust that students will be responsible. This TRUST poster provides five positive “I will…” statements to support the responsible use of technology tools and digital resources. As teachers begin a new school year, they should discuss each of these statements with their students and what they look like in practice. Trust involves developing an open, supportive, and vigorous classroom culture, so these items need to be reviewed regularly with the students.This includes ensuring safety and respect so that students feel comfortable enough to participate fully in personalized learning.
Inclusive – A classroom community is constructed of diverse individuals, but they can come together in the personalized learning environment and support each other with common goals. Each student should be encouraged to share their unique qualities and differences, as they pursue their own interests and individual learning paths. To develop a more inclusive learning environment, teachers can include various perspectives on topics. This approach provides students with an opportunity to see examples from many viewpoints. Diversity should be purposefully incorporated throughout the curriculum by using multiple examples, relevant content, and meaningful illustrations that are free of stereotypes. In this way, everyone is welcome within the classroom to contribute their personal strengths and abilities to benefit the whole community.
Responsive – When teachers possess a good understanding of their students, they should know when students might have personal challenges or difficulties that keep them from performing to their maximum potential. Knowing what makes each student tick helps a teacher become more responsive to their needs and personal differences. One way to develop this understanding is to conference with students regularly (ideally weekly) to set goals, design personalized learning paths, determine progress, and celebrate success. The feedback that teachers provide during these conferences should not only be for instruction, it should encompass the needs of the whole child. Likewise, when difficulties do arise, the teacher should have access to other resources within the school community to assist them in meeting each child’s individual learning needs.
Empowering – By empowering students to make relevant choices about the direction of their learning, teachers can help students become more involved within the classroom community. Encouraging students to believe that they have control over their success is an indicator of a growth mindset and could be one of the most important qualities a student can develop. Growth mindset is the concept that through dedication and hard work you can achieve anything. Carol Dweck wrote about the differences between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset in her book, Mindset: A New Psychology of Success. Essentially, one difference is that a student with a fixed mindset may quickly give up working on a challenging problem after a few minutes, but a student with a growth mindset will persist and view the problem as an exciting challenge! Students with a growth mindset will also learn to see themselves as the architects of their own success. Developing this understanding within students arises in part from ownership of the learning experience.
Joyful – The personalized learning environment is joyful as teachers and students share in the learning process. Even when situations become challenging, there is pleasure in discovering new solutions to problems and collaborating with others in the classroom community. Not only do students feel more connected to their teacher and each other, but they begin to feel more connected to the content they are exploring along their unique learning paths. It is essential to have opportunities to celebrate this joy of learning and each student’s personal successes and achievements. Hosting visitors to the classroom so that students can share what they have learned with others is a good strategy for showcasing success. Also, identifying ways that students can contribute what they have learned to benefit their school, neighboring community, or the world provides a more authentic learning experience and produces a sense of satisfaction and purpose.
This post is part of a series about the Building Blocks for Personalized Learning. When teachers facilitate the building block of Communication, not only are they nurturing a learning environment that supports personalized learning, they are also helping students to develop skills that are essential for personal and professional success. Consider the following forms of communication: reading, writing, speaking, and listening and their importance in the digital age when information is so readily accessible. The use of technology can benefit the development of these skills. However, there is some concern that the connection to technology tools and devices in the classroom will lead to students being disconnected from each other or from the teacher. In my experience, this isn’t the reality of classrooms that encourage Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) or in 1:1 classrooms where students are equipped with school-provided technology resources. These classrooms tend to have more effective communication as the teachers and students have greater opportunities to communicate with each other.
Strategies for Communication
Begin with the Purpose – The five major purposes of communication are as follows: to inform, to express feelings, to imagine, to influence, and to meet social expectations (Communication, 2016). The teacher has to strategically utilize each of these purposes when communicating with students as well as ensure that students practice and develop these skills. These strategies are integral to the teacher’s ability to address the unique needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students in the personalized learning environment. Communicating effectively for personalized learning, requires the teacher to have a good understanding of each child within the classroom learning community.
Develop Norms for Communication – Students have already been learning and practicing their own rules for how they should communicate with others, especially through social media. Teachers have to negotiate norms and procedures with the students for communicating in the personalized learning environment. Some of the communication will be happening face to face, but there will also be communication in online spaces and platforms. Discuss with the students how they need to communicate differently in different situations and give them opportunities to practice their developing skills. Realize that they will make mistakes in communication, yet it is important to know how to respond to those mistakes. It should never be acceptable for a student to demean or intimidate anyone, and those instances must have clear and specific consequences.
Vary Modalities – Students vary in the ways that they perceive and understand what is being communicated and how it is being communicated, so teachers need to present information in multiple ways. By incorporating visuals, movement, music, and illustrations, teachers are more likely to address individual student needs, interests, and preferences. The National Center for Universal Design for Learning provides an excellent graphic organizer, which includes guidelines for providing multiple means of representation; action and expression; and engagement. Remember that attention spans also differ among learners, and it is normal that the attention of participants drifts occasionally throughout instruction. Including variety and novelty, helps the learners focus on what is being communicated and providing activities that utilize movement is essential.
Consider Your Tone – Since perception varies among learners, teachers need to think about how they are sounding when they are communicating. If they have taught the same lesson several times during a day, are they beginning to sound bored or impatient? The tone of personalized instruction should sound supportive and encouraging, rather than directive, and engaging, rather than monotone. Again, having a good understanding of the students is necessary, because teachers focused on personalized learning are more likely to know what tone to use within a specific situation or with a particular student to communicate a message.
Use Effective Presentation Skills – In the personalized learning environment, the students will be communicating and presenting as much (if not more) that the teacher. By modeling effective presentation skills, teachers can teach students how to be better communicators. The following strategies are important to consider when presenting:
- Make whole class presentations short and then work with individual students or with small groups.
- Post a written list of steps or directions that students should follow.
- Consider how much the teacher is talking compared to the students.
- Model professional and appropriate communication behaviors for students.
- Emphasize key points, ideas, and directions when speaking.
- Provide enough time for students to respond to questions.
- Record instruction and watch the video for feedback about communication.
Use a Microphone (if possible) – As an instructional technology specialist, I worked at an elementary school that had microphones and a sound system installed in every classroom. At first, many teachers were hesitant to wear their microphones as this was a change in traditional practice. We established some school-wide expectations for that system, and all of the teachers began the practice of wearing the microphones on a lanyard throughout the day. Each classroom was also equipped with a handheld student microphone. After an initial period of assimilating and normalizing the use of the microphones into regular instructional practices, the teachers eagerly reported that the new sound systems had a dramatic improvement on the teaching and learning experiences in their classrooms. Students were eager to share what they had learned while using the handheld microphone for communication, and this encouraged even shy and reticent students to express their ideas and opinions about what they had learned. Teachers noted that they were more comfortable in communicating with their classes as they realized that they rarely had to raise their voices to get the attention of the students, and the students attended better to instruction and class discussion.
Remember Nonverbal Communication – Listening is an important skill for communication for personalized learning. A teacher has to show openness to new ideas and strategies. If the students sense a feeling of agitation, disinterest, or confusion, the teacher will lose their participation. Likewise, facial expressions and posture can encourage or discourage enthusiasm for learning. It is important to practice patience when dealing with difficult situations or even with the subjects or topics that the teacher may not find personally interesting. One of the best practices for personalized learning is for teachers to imagine what it would be like to be a student in their classes and to consider how they would want to be perceived. Note that nonverbal communication is the first message that students receive as they walk into the classroom to begin a new day.
Communication. (2016). In Compton’s by Britannica. Retrieved from http://kids.britannica.com/comptons/article-198990/communication
This post was written in collaboration with Douglas Konopelko. It is part of a series about the Building Blocks for Personalized Learning. Although it may seem unusual to connect collaboration to the practice of personalized learning, it is important to remember that students don’t learn within a vacuum. In a personalized learning environment, teachers can help students discover what individual roles they can successfully assume when collaborating with others.
Employers in the digital age are not looking at test scores; they want candidates with effective collaboration and teamwork skills. According to The National Association of Colleges and Employers in 2013, the number one skill employers are looking for in their employees is the ability to work in a team. Review the top ten qualities in this Forbes article. Collaboration is often misconstrued, and it is important to make a distinction between collaboration and group work. Think of it this way – group work is an assembly line – each worker is responsible for a portion of the final product, but they can be completed in isolation. On the other hand, an example of collaboration is the leadership team from a corporation deciding on the direction they want to take the company. Collaboration requires that there be some form of direct interaction between individuals towards an end product which includes negotiations, discussions, and valuing the perspectives of others (Kozar, 2010). Detailed below are some strategies for collaboration that teachers can facilitate in their personalized learning environments.
Strategies for Facilitating Collaboration
Scaffold Collaborative Activities – Students might not know how to begin to work collaboratively, so a teacher can facilitate collaboration by modeling strategies for sharing responsibilities while still including everyone in the overall process and success for the activity. Teachers can also suggest roles with specific responsibilities within the group. For example, if students are developing a video based around a standard, there might be students with the following responsibilities: script writers, editors, videographers, prop designers, and actors.
Teachers are gradually abandoning roles that don’t involve content, such as “time keeper” in favor of those that keep everyone truly involved in the standards-based or skills-based learning. The following list contains some suggested new roles for collaborative learning:
- Standard Bearer – This role is responsible for making sure that the team’s discussion and answer is aligned to the standard/scale/learning goal and steers the conversation back to that direction if it strays.
- Clarification Guru – This role makes sure that what is being discussed/presented will be clearly stated to make it easy to understand while still remaining focused on the topic at hand.
- Visualizer – This role is responsible for translating the group’s full process (all the thoughts and ideas) into a visual (sketchnote or graphic organizer).
- Deepener of Knowledge – This role is responsible for synthesizing questions or an enrichment assignment based on the standard and the group’s process that will help other people dig deeper into the standard and get to a higher level of cognitive complexity.
Promote Interdependence – It is essential to have nurtured a learning community where students are encouraged to rely on each other for support. One strategy is to assign students who are experts at particular apps to be “Appsperts.” Post the Appsperts on the wall and explain that if students are confused on how to use the particular app, they can go to the Appspert for expert advice. This provides students with an opportunity to develop leadership skills within the classroom digitally. Another strategy for promoting interdependence is to create a classroom norm that students discuss issues with each other before bringing them to the teacher. The teacher should also adhere to this norm by not interjecting in every conversation by assuming it is off-track.
Utilize Student Expertise – Once students have mastered a standard, they can develop materials and resources to teach other students that concept. Encouraging students to utilize what they have created to tutor or assist students who are having difficulties is empowering. This reciprocal teaching is one of the most powerful and effective ways to simultaneously offer remediation to struggling students and acceleration to students who are ready to move on at their own pace. Students can also facilitate a small group environment to teach other students a concept. If they can do this effectively, a student-led session can be recorded for future flipped instruction. If possible, a teacher could post this as an example or evidence for parents to see the powerful learning taking place in the classroom.
Many students may know how to use the technology in the classroom better than their teachers, but they might not know how to learn with that technology. The teacher can show a willingness to learn from the students how to use those technology tools, devices, resources, and applications for new learning opportunities.
Establish Clear Guidelines – A positive strategy is to have students develop a set of classroom rules, expectations, and norms that help the class to create a sense of community within the classroom. These norms should be posted and reviewed regularly to help guide collaboration. Before students begin working collaboratively is a good time for the teacher to model examples and non-examples of appropriate behaviors. It is essential to design these norms with the students in order to empower students and to achieve their buy-in. They can also assist in the design of a checklist or a rubric for evaluating participation so that they know what is expected of them when they collaborate with others.
Model Conflict Resolution – Creating a collaborative classroom culture is essential to any transformational change. One successful method is to implement a classroom vision statement developed by all students. Each morning, students can discuss ways they will achieve the classroom vision, and if they were unable to the previous day, they can develop a goal on how they will improve. Students can develop an action plan together to reach that goal using the following suggested questions:
- What will I do today?
- What will I do tomorrow?
- What will I do next week?
- How will I know that we have been successful?
It should be expected that as students collaborate, they will eventual experience conflicts. When conflicts do arise, the teacher should walk through the steps and norms that have been developed by the students for resolving conflicts. The teacher’s role in this situation should be to coach the students by asking good questions that help to lead to a resolution.
More about Douglas – In addition to his role as the Coordinator of Digital Learning for Martin County School District in Florida, Douglas Konopelko is a connected educator and graphic design enthusiast (dkonopelko.com). His passion for collaboration and lifelong learning is woven into the fabric of each of these roles. As a classroom teacher, Douglas led the charge for BYOD in his district and continues to support the program as a district administrator.