Posts Tagged byot

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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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 Passback Effect of Mobile Technology for Early Learners

Passback

What is the Passback Effect?

We have all witnessed the Passback Effect when sitting in a restaurant, and to keep a young child content and quiet, parents hand over their own technology device. This phenomenon also occurs when parents pass smartphones or tablets to their children in the backseat of the car or in a shopping cart. The result is usually the same as the child becomes enamored with the device, and the parents earn several precious moments of silence. What are the children doing with the device? Most likely, they are playing a familiar game, but they could also be taking photos, listening to music, surfing websites, etc. The possibilities are endless, since they are holding the doorway to all of humankind’s recorded history within their little fingers.

What are the ramifications of the Passback Effect? It is difficult to tell how the use of mobile devices at early ages changes student learning. I considered making two columns for positive and negative effects, but I decided that those two categories were too limiting and judgmental. Maybe the results are just what they are since the devices won’t be going away anytime soon. Because teachers will have to realize that many young children will enter Kindergarten and pre-school with so much exposure to digital content and tools, there are many aspects of technology use that will have to be taken into consideration. I have listed five traits below, but feel free to respond to this blog post with your own suggestions and strategies.

Ramifications of the Passback Effect

  • Increased understanding of technology – Young children will continue to become even more adept at using technology, and when something doesn’t work, they will have developed the resiliency to just try another method. Of course, these children are developing their own strategies for how the devices can and should be used, but they may not know specifically how to learn with them. Teachers need to learn how to ask questions to focus on the learning, but they also need to be willing to learn alongside and from students and develop the confidence to say “I don’t know.”
  • Accustomed to making choices – Since the students are choosing their content and developing their own strategies for using devices, they will want to make choices about the ways they learn. Teachers will have to focus on scaffolding learning experiences to keep the students engaged and developing new academic abilities and to provide choices that match with the students personal interests and talents. Lessons will need to be carefully planned with short meaningful chunks of information followed by interactive assignments and formative assessments in order to maintain student attention.
  • Distracted by technology – Through the implementation of the pass back, parents have often unknowingly supported the concept that technology is a distraction device. After all, it is meant to keep the children quiet. However, when I have seen classrooms with multiple technology tools available, those learning environments are active and full of communication as students share their experiences. Teachers will have to nurture positive uses of technology and may need to help students become producers of content rather than solely consuming information.
  • Unaware of social norms – Because children have been focused on the technology, they may not be aware of when it is time to put the devices down and look someone in the eye in order to have a conversation. Some educators mistakenly ban technology tools for this reason; however, a more effective strategy is to nurture mindfulness and teach students appropriate behaviors for face to face communication as well as appropriate online netiquette. They have modeled most of their behaviors after the adults in their lives, and unfortunately many adults have difficulty with the responsible use of technology.
  • Ready for online learning – With all of this early access to online resources with mobile technology tools, students will be prepared for learning online. They may even enter school possessing mastery of many of the traditional standards taught to students in the primary grades. This early preparation will continue to move learning away from the one-size-fits-all model of instruction, and each student can begin progressing at his/her own personalized pace through online learning environments. These educational spaces will need to be dynamic and visual to meet the needs of early learners.

It’s an exciting time in education that will continue to transform traditional classrooms. The Passback Effect will have a lasting impact on young children as it demands change to engage their learning and forces teachers to adopt new teaching strategies.

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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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Embracing the BYOT Mindset

How it begins…

BYOT_MindsetWhen students first bring in their own technology devices for a BYOT initiative, the energy in the classroom crackles with their excitement. They are eager to share how they use those tools for connecting to others, consuming content, and playing games. Teachers usually prepare an introductory activity designed to help their students explore how to learn with BYOT. There are many discussions about apps, websites, networks, and hardware. However, there is a potential for magic to happen through consistent use, high expectations, and sheer determination. The devices blend into the normal part of the process of learning, and the technology becomes invisible. The teachers who are able to conduct that magic trick possess a common understanding – BYOT is a mindset, and here’s the secret; it isn’t about technology after all.

What it is…

The BYOT Mindset is a deeply ingrained (in your bones, even) conviction that students can and should own the learning (or at least share it with their teachers). Just as they own their technology devices, most students also possess an understanding of software, processes, and media that have to be acknowledged as possibilities for deeper learning. The BYOT mindset is more than the understanding of a technology device (most students don’t automatically know how to learn with their technology); rather, the BYOT mindset also takes into consideration that the students have particular knowledge of applications that may be beneficial for their learning.

How you embrace it…

As teachers, we often think that our job is to direct the learning in the classroom. We concoct the perfect recipe of lecture, project, practice, and assessment to lead to student mastery of a concept. However, what would happen if we challenged the students with a relevant question and have them research information and propose solutions to real world problems? Ideally, this situation would lead to greater student engagement and relevancy. The students can utilize their own technology tools in this pursuit of learning, as needed. Teachers can embrace the BYOT mindset by trusting that their students will be connected to their learning as they are challenged to discover for themselves new solutions to authentic problems.

By exhibiting the following five behaviors, teachers can venture along the path to embracing the BYOT mindset.

  1. Share control of the learning
  2. Ask more questions, than give answers.
  3. Realize that BYOT is about understanding as well as devices
  4. Provide access to rich content and resources
  5. Trust your students as members of a learning community

 

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Sustainable Practices for Digital Age Learning

sustainability

Sustainability is defined as the “capacity to endure” (“Sustainability,” 2013).  Most people agree that the natural environment has to be sustained so that we can long-lasting and renewable benefits from its resources.  Similarly, we must develop sustainable practices that continue to support digital age learning within the learning environments of today’s schools.  When the initial enthusiasm for shiny new technology devices begins to pale, what will help to keep the spark alive?

Digital Age Learning describes the shift from traditional teacher-directed instruction to student-centered learning with the use of technology tools.  Those resources may be provided by the school or through a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative.  I have observed the transformation of many typical classrooms in my district through the implementation of BYOT supplemented by the school’s technology devices and infrastructure.   However, that transformation has to be sustained so that teachers and students don’t revert into the old habits of standardized, rote instruction – mainly characterized by the activities of lecturing, memorizing, and recalling information.

Based on my collaboration with teachers and students throughout my district, here are some practices for sustaining digital age learning.

Build the Learning Community

sustain_community

I’ve written before about the importance of developing learning communities in schools and classrooms, and one hallmark of an effective community is trust. When students and teachers are working with technology devices and applications, there is always the possibility that someone could make a mistake or a poor choice.  Yet, I’ve seen classrooms with clear, consistent expectations and an atmosphere of safety and respect that rarely experience issues related to the inappropriate use of technology.  When teachers expect the responsible use of technology, they convey that they believe in each student’s ability to accomplish great things.

Utilize Student Expertise

Because students are accustomed to using their own technology tools for consuming content and communicating with their friends, they have already learned how to troubleshoot many technology issues.  Of course, not every student has the same level of interest, ability, or expertise with technology, but they can learn to rely on each other for support.  The teacher can also begin to depend on the students for technology assistance. This strategy builds empowers students to discover new skills for life-long learning.

Focus on Digital Age Skills

Teachers often become frustrated when they focus their instruction on a particular application or device. In fact, as we implemented BYOT, we quickly realized that we needed to talk more about digital age skills (communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking), rather than on technology.  As teachers begin to incorporate those skills into their content standards, technology becomes purposeful, meaningful, and relevant.

Encourage the Regular Use of Technology

sustain_collaboration

Having special technology times or days means that technology use occurs outside of the norms of learning.  However, when it becomes a normal part of teaching and learning, teachers and students are able to discover new uses for the available technology tools.  Then technology serves a legitimate function in the process of learning, and its use becomes an enjoyable, necessary process, rather than a big production or event.

Provide Continuous Professional Learning

Teachers and students need time to “play” with the technology tools, but the real paradigm shift for many teachers is learning how to share control and direction of the learning with the students. It is also helpful if teachers can see digital age learning in action by observing each other trying new strategies, using technology, and facilitating learning experiences for students. This support should be on-going and include opportunities for feedback and reflection.

In addition to the above strategies, the buy in and support of the parents and other stakeholders also ensure the sustainability of digital age learning.  Technology hardware, applications, and processes will continue to change over time, whether students are using school-owned or student-owned devices, but the supportive practices that truly leverage change are everlasting.

Resource

Sustainability. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved November 26, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainability

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