Archive for category BYOT Strategies

Choice for Personalized Learning

Choice

This post is part of a series about the Building Blocks for Personalized Learning. The building block of Choice helps students to feel more personally connected to their learning. Making meaningful choices engages students in determining the processes and products involved in their learning. Facilitating student choice involves more than providing options for learning that are predetermined by the teacher that marginally differentiate the learning experience. In personalized learning, the choices are intrinsically significant for each student and assist learners in understanding unfamiliar content by making the material more attainable and relatable. There are particular interconnected qualities of effective choices that teachers should consider when designing learning opportunities.

Qualities of Choice

Relevant – Relevant choices can engage students in learning by empowering them to show what they know by using their own innate or acquired strengths and abilities. A choice is also relevant when it holds particular meaning for the student. This relevancy may be encompassed by the process, the product, and/or the content involved in the learning task. When choices are relevant to students, they may create products that showcase talents, such as particular skills with art or mathematics, or they may choose to focus on an aspect of the topic that they find especially interesting.

Authentic – When learning activities possess real world significance or meaning, they can provide authentic choices for students. These experiences enable students to select from various possible scenarios that will cause them to use specific skills, strategies, or content knowledge in order to solve real problems. Choices that encourage students to utilize what they have learned to delve into meaningful issues or problems and construct original solutions, can motivate students to persevere when tasks are difficult. Students will care more about a topic when they understand and appreciate its broader importance.

Competency-Based – Choices need to ensure that students will be able to show mastery of learning standards regardless of what task they choose to undertake. By completing a learning task, students should be able to demonstrate that they understand a particular concept or skill. Teachers and students need to design a variety of tasks that encompass the targeted learning standards, so that options are equivalent. After identifying the essential skills embedded within the standard, the teacher and student can collaboratively determine what processes or products could show understanding. Considering the complexity of learning tasks will also help teachers evaluate whether or not choices are comparable.

Student-Driven – Students have to learn how to make their own choices rather than solely relying on their teachers to decide for them. They may not be accustomed to making choices because most of their schooling has forced them to be passive learners. I have heard students ask, “Can you just choose for me?” By asking guiding questions, the teacher can help students learn how to choose learning tasks that they find motivating and yet involve the targeted learning standards. Students need to develop an awareness of their personal areas of strength and how to capitalize on those strengths in order to overcome their weaknesses.

Student-Generated – There needs to be an opportunity for each student to develop a personalized learning path, and it would be impossible for a teacher to be able to be aware of every possible route when designing instruction. Therefore, it is necessary to involve students in the design process for personalized learning. By including an option to Choose Your Own among the list of available choices, students are able to tweak an existing task or to develop an original proposal that encourages innovation and individuality. Ultimately, a goal of personalized learning is for students to learn how to make their own choices for every activity as they are presented with learning standards so that they can design their own tasks to demonstrate their understanding.

It would be difficult for a teacher to design dynamic choices for students in isolation; therefore it may be helpful for teachers to collaborate with their colleagues to develop a variety of learning tasks. If teachers are to address the above qualities of effective choices for personalized learning, they have to have a good understanding of their students. This understanding arises from purposefully nurturing a learning community within the classroom. By regularly conferencing with students, teachers can help them set goals and make choices that are necessary for personalized learning. The teacher also needs to model how to make good choices for students and to share their own personal interests and strengths. Being the lead learner and an engaged participant are roles the teacher must practice in the personalized learning ecosystem.

 

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Critical Thinking for Personalized Learning

Critical Thinking

This post is part of a series about the Building Blocks for Personalized Learning. The building block of Critical Thinking helps to construct a firm foundation for personalized learning. In many classrooms, teachers don’t provide the time necessary for critical thinking in order to develop original solutions to problems. Many of the problems that are provided to students also have only one possible right or wrong answer and don’t encourage true critical thinking. When students are given the opportunity to utilize all of the resources available within a classroom (including their own ingenuity) to solve problems, they can be challenged to personally connect to their learning and construct new understanding.

Strategies for Promoting Critical Thinking

Provide Time for Reflection – After being presented with unfamiliar content and ideas, students need time so that they can accommodate that new information within their previously developed schema of that topic. This process involves making sense of new concepts by constructing or reconstructing personal frameworks of thought. Solely telling students to accept the information and moving on to new content doesn’t enable them to work through this process. Students can reflect in a variety of ways, and an effective practice for reflection is for students to learn what ways best help them to make sense of new information. Some strategies could include drawing an illustration; creating a mind map or graphic to understand how concepts are interrelated; or restating information in your own words and making a recording for playback.

Ask Open-Ended Questions – Essential questions proposed at the beginning of a lesson can set the stage for new learning and helps students focus on the core components of a concept or process. This practice helps students answer why they should be learning this information and explains why they should give it their attention. Personalizing the questions will again help students become more connected to that content, so they should also learn how to ask their own questions about topics. Effective questioning for both teachers and students requires practice. Closed questions have one right or wrong answer, and it is virtually impossible to connect to those questions personally. Open questions provide students with opportunities to answer them in a variety of ways based on personal experiences and understandings. Encourage students to provide evidence to support their thinking as they answer open questions to reinforce the connection between personal experience and new content.

Design Rigorous Assignments – So much time in school is spent doing rote types of assignments and activities that involve answering closed questions – completing worksheets, taking notes, etc. Rigorous assignments are those that stretch student thinking with complexity, intricacy, and divergency. Even when teachers have students complete projects or hands-on activities, many of the steps for completing those assignments are pre-determined by the teacher and often stifle true critical thinking. Having students design their own strategies for showing their thinking adds rigor to an assignment. Exploring and discovering new processes for using tools (such as technology) can also add complexity to learning tasks – and promotes effective digital learning, rather than just digitized learning. This practice is often a struggle for many students, especially because many of them are unused to being asked to really think in school. Initially, teachers may have to model the process of critical thinking for students in order to scaffold steps for completing a rigorous assignment.

Expect Every Child to Contribute – When posing questions to students, teachers sometimes rely on the first few responses from a couple of students and proceed to additional concepts. Struggling or introverted students begin relying on others to answer all of the questions in class while they remain silent. This practice keeps them from thinking critically about the content. Every student needs to grapple with the information and contribute to the collective understanding of each concept. Using a student response system can provide each student with a voice and assist in sharing ideas. Likewise, synchronous and asynchronous participation in discussion forums can also serve to help students process their thinking about what they are learning. Even having students turn to each other and discuss new information or to answer an open question and then share their thinking with the class provides a greater opportunity for participation.

Provide Multiple Ways to Show Understanding – Having every student utilize the same application or complete the same process to show their understanding can limit opportunities for critical thinking. Providing multiple ways to show understanding can enable students to think through the process or the application that better meets their individual needs or capitalizes on their personal strengths or interests. Again, it can be daunting for students to learn all of the possible ways that they could show what they know, but teachers can help facilitate this process by providing choices, modeling thinking, and being open to a variety of learning strategies. Engaging students in the process of developing a rubric for evaluating their thinking and assignments can also support personalized learning.

There are many more strategies for encouraging critical thinking in classrooms, but teachers can begin utilizing the five strategies described above for personalizing the learning experience for students. As with any strategy implemented with fidelity, on-going practice and support will also help both teachers and students develop more expertise in critical thinking.

 

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Building Blocks for Personalized Learning

Building Blocks of PL

Almost two years ago, I wrote an article for eSchool News entitled, “The Advantages of the BYOT Classroom.” At the time, I was the Coordinator of Instructional Technology for Forsyth County Schools in Georgia, and the advantages that I listed were the qualities that I had observed in classrooms that effectively utilized Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) to transform teaching and learning opportunities with students’ personal technology tools.

Now, I’m collaborating with several schools and districts around the country that are beginning to implement Personalized Learning to better connect students with engaging academic content; to facilitate the development of digital age skills; and to utilize technology to provide access to anytime, anywhere learning. These benefits occur as districts, schools, and teachers recognize that students have unique strengths, needs, and interests that must be considered within the design of instruction. The methods for addressing student individuality may differ, but they include the same hallmarks of the BYOT classroom. In the illustration above, I refer to these as building blocks, as they collectively construct a firm foundation for personalized learning.

Within each of the blog posts linked below, I focused on the concepts included within the illustration of the building blocks to highlight why they are essential, foundational components for personalizing learning. I also included strategies or described necessary qualities for encouraging the development of each building block within your own personalized learning implementation plan.

Building Blocks for Personalized Learning Blog Posts

 

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The Issue of Equity in Learning Opportunities

A Scenario of Inequity

When discussing Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT), the issue of equity is always a concern; however, schools have many issues with equity regarding learning opportunities. Teachers within a school may utilize different teaching methods and strategies, so students may utilize different resources for different purposes. Some teachers choose to use project-based learning to engage students with content at school. Other teachers work especially hard to create and nurture a caring learning community, and they understand what motivates and inspires their students to learn regardless of the obstacles in their lives. Schools often have varying availability and access to digital tools and resources. This access might be due to the resources students already have in their lives and that they bring from home, but sometimes it’s due to the ingenuity and vision of the school leadership to pursue every available avenue to ensure student success.

A Shift in Thinking – Sharing Ownership of the Learning

When schools encourage students to bring their own technology tools and devices, they have new ways for connecting with each other, their teachers, and content. Some schools provide students with technology resources within their classroom for collaboration or provide devices with a one-to-one implementation. Regardless of the methods used to ensure students have technology tools, digital resources, and access, students need to share in the ownership of their learning experience within their learning community. This shift often requires that teachers empower students in the learning process. Teachers have to be willing to try new things with technology tools and understand that students may be the best “just in time” experts to explain about a new concept, solve a technical issue, or ask engaging questions. Teachers don’t have to specify how a project should be undertaken and completed. Instead teachers can offer choices and provide guidance for each student to find ways to share his or her own unique voice in order to show what they know.

A Scenario of Inequity

One of the most inequitable learning scenarios occurs when students go to school and discover that they have the teacher that doesn’t choose to use technology; or doesn’t choose to engage in project-based learning; or doesn’t choose to ask engaging questions. Meanwhile, their peers may end up in classrooms with teachers that employ digital learning and personalize the learning process. All students need to develop digital age skills to be successful in an ever-increasing digital world.

Ensuring Equity in Schools

One way of ensuring equity at schools is by guaranteeing that each teacher has access to a sustainable equitable digital curriculum as a foundation for personalized learning. Some teachers will be late adopters of technology, but if they have access to a repository of resources populated with lesson plans and learning activities designed by more capable trailblazers they may be more willing to try new strategies. Consistent modeling, support from school leaders, coaching, and quality professional learning can be the tools that these teachers need for success. By providing teachers with access to sustainable digital resources, in addition to helping them develop personal goals and achievable expectations, schools can become closer to providing an equitable learning experience for students.

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Perceptions of BYOT

When you see a student with a personal mobile device in the classroom, what do you think is happening with that device?

BYOT Perceptions

In the above illustration, what is the student doing? Here are some possibilities…

  • conducting research
  • creating a project
  • texting a parent, friend, or teacher
  • watching a video
  • playing a game
  • reading a news article

As educators, we could argue the instructional merits of what is happening with the smartphone that the student is holding. Many of our initial thoughts and concerns are framed by our own perceptions and experiences of how we personally use technology.

I read a heavily circulated article this week that detailed some research from the UK on the banning of students personal technology tools. This research revealed that students perform better on standardized tests when their schools ban the use of personal mobile devices. Apparently, this improved performance was due to the lack of distractions. Obviously, I can’t argue with the research, but I do have several questions and thoughts related to the focus of this study and the topic of banning students’ technology tools.

Q1: Why is there so much importance placed on student performance on standardized tests when we have to learn to thrive in a nonstandardized world?

I understand the importance of accountability, and in education, we keep trying to find just the right assessment that will tell us whether or not teachers are effective and students are mastering the appropriate content and skills. However, in our globally connected work force, many of us are faced with choices on the job that challenge us to be creative, communicate well, and think critically. A standardized test should not be the only form of measurement to assess student learning and skills in the conceptual age when they need to generate new ideas for solving problems.

Most students carry mobile learning tools in their pockets. These are the tools they will carry with them in the real world, and these resources should be maximized for success in that complex world.

Q2: How will students learn how to manage distractions and develop the self-discipline to utilize personal technology responsibly when it is banned from school use?

Of course, students¹ personal technology tools can lead to distractions; likewise, students can be distracted by anything that removes them from the tedium of traditional teacher-directed instruction – even their own thoughts. In order for students to learn how to use their devices responsibly, they need to be nurtured and guided with some strategies for learning with these tools; for focusing during a conversation; and for completing tasks at hand. We have all seen adults who have difficulty using their devices responsibly, but most of us are self-taught in their use. By bringing their technology tools to school and with the support of their teachers, students have a greater potential for developing new responsible habits.

Q3: How do schools think they can successfully ban student devices?

With the influx of mobile technology tools, including those that are meant to be worn, there is really no logistical way to successfully ban student devices from school. Students will have the devices in their pockets, bookbags, and even on their wrists. A more sustainable approach is to focus on the responsible use of technology, and the first step in this process is to develop a learning community that acknowledges and respects student access to their devices. It is also important for educators to be prepared with digital resources and curriculum so that students have something to do with their devices when they bring them to school. Learning how to ask the right questions that inspire student inquiry is essential for mobile learning.

Now, note the thought bubble in the illustration…

What do you suppose that the student is thinking?

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The Distraction Myth of Learning with Technology

The Distraction MythIn facilitating the integration of technology tools within classrooms, I’ve heard teachers complain that devices can be distracting. This was also one of the fears that Lisa Nielsen (@innovativeEdu) addressed in a recent blog post – Confronting Fears – #BYOD for Students. The idea that technology itself is a distraction to students is a myth. It is perpetuated by educators who believe that banning technology will keep students more focused on the learning happening within the classroom. Technology, however, does have the potential to be a distraction for several reasons:

  • Students have developed their own norms for how technology should be used, and responsible use isn’t nurtured within classrooms.
  • The use of technology is often teacher-directed when it is utilized so students have few choices about the process or product.
  • There is an assumption that compliance with direct instruction means that students are engaged and focused.
  • Technology use is sometimes perceived as an extra add-on to traditional instruction instead of integral to the learning process.
  • Teacher lectures, direct instruction, and independent work with worksheets are regularly used as a means of behavior management to keep students quiet and pacified, and technology use encourages interaction.

Here are some strategies for addressing the issues listed above.

  1. Teachers and students should collaboratively develop expectations and guidelines for the responsible use of technology tools. These procedures should be posted and continually communicated and practiced. Remember that students will sometimes make mistakes with technology, and they should be consistently redirected, as necessary, with how to use technology responsibly.
  2. Students generally know how to use to technology, or they are generally able to quickly adapt to its use. However, they don’t usually know how to learn with technology. This is something that teachers can facilitate by utilizing the expertise of the students in the classroom to help each other. Teachers can also make assignments more open-ended so that students have opportunities to make choices in both process and product.
  3. Students can be distracted by many things within a classroom, even where technology tools are underutilized or banned. Many students have learned to play the “game” of school. They can look at a teacher and pretend to be focused and learning even though there thoughts are elsewhere. Teachers can create opportunities for collaboration, communication, and critical thinking in learning activities. In dynamic, active classrooms, there is a greater opportunity for effective technology use to support digital age skills.
  4. Technology by itself isn’t always engaging. Teachers have to utilize a variety of instructional strategies and digital content to engage student learning. With the effective integration of technology tools, teachers are able to personalize learning, flip the classroom, provide differentiated learning, and work with small groups and individuals – knowing that the students can utilize technology to access learning resources.
  5. Teachers have to model the desire to learn by learning alongside students new ways to utilize technology and discover new facets of a topic. With technology tools, students are readily able to access information, so there is no need for a teacher or a textbook to be the sole source of content. This can be intimidating for teachers who often perceive that their role is to disseminate everything they know about a subject.

By developing a positive learning community within a classroom, a teacher can take the initial steps necessary to begin integrating technology tools and resources. With consistent perseverance and practice, soon these teachers can find new ways to transform learning experiences while dispelling the myth of distraction while learning with technology.

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10 Best Practices for Teaching with Digital Content

Best Practices for Digtal ContentAs students and teachers continue to have increased access to digital tools and resources, there is a shift in the traditional instructional practices that have been used for teaching and learning. Textbooks are no longer the primary source of information, and students can fact check their teachers with the devices in their pockets. Also, content has to be more than just digitized textbooks and documents. Students must interact with digital content and produce new ways to show what they have learned. Here is my list of ten strategies for teaching with digital content, but please share your original ideas.

1. Develop a learning community.

I know that I talk about this process throughout my BYOT Network blog, but developing a community is essential to any digital age learning environment. Students and teachers want to feel a sense of belonging within schools and classrooms. Teachers have to maintain high expectations for student behavior and performance, and students will strive to live up to these expectations. By modeling and supporting digital citizenship, teachers can help students internalize the responsible use of technology tools. As they work collaboratively to solve authentic problems and share their original projects with others, students begin to realize a purpose that sustains a learning community.

2. Have an instructional purpose.

With all of the demands of being a classroom teacher, it is understandable that teachers sometimes need to engage student learning with digital content. However, it is better practice to have an instructional purpose for the video being shown to students within a classroom. Teachers should consider why they are utilizing particular digital content within their planning and use it intentionally to make a difference for each learner.

3. Preview all content.

As with all forms of media being shared with students, teachers should carefully preview all digital content to be shared with students. Teachers should consider the particular needs and expectations of their learning communities – the age of the students; the learning standards; the values of the parents – before utilizing digital content for instructional purposes.

4. Scaffold understanding.

Within the design of a lesson that incorporates digital content, teachers have to scaffold understanding. How are those resources being used to engage student learning? Video 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 are able to use their thinking to solve problems. Finally, there should be a variety of types of formative and summative assessments so that students have multiple risk-free opportunities to demonstrate learning and ensure success.

5. 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 a backchannel discussion using technology tools to pose new questions and ideas about their learning. Teachers can use digital content to help students compare and contrast new concepts in collaborative groups, and students can create authentic products to demonstrate their learning. There is a need for students to become producers of new digital content rather than just being consumers of information.

6. Incorporate digital age skills.

Teachers can support digital age learning by incorporating the 4 Cs – Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity – within their classrooms. By collaborating with others through online discussions and assignments, students practice and learn the appropriate netiquette for communication in the digital age. By using critical thinking to build a personalized playlist of digital content, they can learn or review information. Finally, they can create original projects to show what they know and upload them to share with others as new learning objects.

7. Consider the lesson design.

As teachers plan for instruction with digital content, they are able to consider effective lesson design. Beginning with an essential question, teachers are able to prompt critical thinking about the standard or concept. They can show a video segment that encourages student learning and then link to an interactive assignment that supports  student creativity as they work collaboratively to solve authentic, real-world problems. Finally, the teacher can utilize another form of digital content along with questioning techniques (involving student response) to provide opportunities for formative assessment. There are so many choices with digital content that enable teachers to be lesson designers in a dynamic learning environment.

8. Utilize a variety of content.

One of the benefits of digital age learning is that students can access a variety of content types with technology tools. Audio, images, video, interactive websites, applications, and text can all be integrated to provide students with multiple opportunities to choose how they will learn. However, one reality is that students will eventually have to learn using different modalities, and teachers should carefully plan how to develop students’ skills to make meaning from diverse types of content. Focusing on the needs of the students and their learning goals can help teachers make wise choices about how and when to use particular digital content.

9. 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. This personalized approach provides voice to students as they show what they know in ways they perceive as relevant.

10. Encourage multiple devices.

With the tools in their pockets and backpacks, as well as the ones provided within their schools, students have access to multiple devices, and teachers should encourage their use. Students can use a handheld device to quickly communicate or access content, but there may be times when they need to use resources from the school, such as desktops, interactive whiteboards, or 3D printers to create other products. Knowing how to choose the right device, at the right time, to interact with digital content promotes the critical thinking that students need for academic success in the digital age.

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