Posts Tagged community of practice
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.
A goal of the BYOT classroom is to develop resilient students who own the learning process, just as they own their personal technology tools. Resiliency is the ability to overcome challenges and bounce back, and it is essential to a person’s long term success and happiness. One way to develop resiliency is to cultivate a learning community or a community of practice that includes the teacher as well as the students.
What Is a Community of Practice?
According to Etienne Wenger, “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”
There are three components of a CoP – domain, community, and practice.
- Domain – the shared interest and expertise of the group
- Community – the relationships and norms among the members of the group
- Practice – the interactions of the group while solving problems and developing resources
Communities of Practice with BYOT
In the BYOT classroom, teachers and students work collaboratively to learn new concepts and explore innovative ways to show what they have learned with their own technology tools. The students are already personally attached to their own devices because they use those tools to make sense of their world by connecting to their friends and families; publishing photos and content; playing games; and consuming a variety of information. In this way, a technology device begins to acquire new meaning since it is an extension and a representation of a student’s sense of self. Possibly, that is why students are so angry when they are told to turn off their technology and put it away or when it is taken away from them.
By integrating student-owned technologies within the learning environment, teachers can transform their classrooms into communities of practice. Here are seven strategies for facilitating the components of a community of practice with BYOT to develop more resilient learners.
- Trust – Teachers and students may be unused to a learning environment where they are able to learn alongside each other discovering new ideas. It is impossible for a teacher to be able to see what is on the screen of each student’s device or for a district to block all inappropriate content. Trust has to prevail within the BYOT classroom to encourage the responsible use of technology.
- High Expectations – When no student is undervalued as a member of the learning community, they can find new ways to achieve, succeed, and contribute. By maintaining high expectations for every student, the teacher is able to begin trusting that the students will become engaged in learning and will want to use technology responsibly. Those expectations can nurture the desired behaviors.
- Open Access – Students should be able to use their technology tools, as needed, in order to research new concepts and to participate. There shouldn’t be special technology times; rather, it should be an integral part of digital age learning. Also, when they go home at the end of the day, most students will have unfiltered Internet access. They need to learn what to do when they encounter spam messages or inappropriate content. In public schools, we are legally required to filter the Internet, but over-filtering gives students (and teachers) a false sense of security.
- Sense of Belonging – When they are able to explore their interests and passions without the fear of mistakes and failure, students find new strengths and opportunities to share their expertise with the other members of the learning community. In a community of practice, members begin to be recognized and appreciated for their differences. Because they have different devices, teachers have to encourage students to use them in innovative ways to show what they know.
- Flexibility – The logistics of the school day mean that there are time constraints, but there has to be freedom to pursue the teachable or “learnable” moment. Standards and curriculum can’t be so locked down that there is no room for the community of practice to naturally evolve or to explore new ways to use personal technology tools to create and communicate. Now, projects don’t have to be so planned by the teacher that they leave little room for student creativity.
- Coaching – Just as the coach of a sport recognizes the need for practice for new skills to become habits, the teacher and students can mentor each other on the use of technology, on particular topics, and areas of expertise. There is no way that a teacher can know how each device or application works, so they have to be willing to learn alongside students and model inquiry.
- Persistence – Everyone makes mistakes, yet this realization can be difficult for many of us when it comes to BYOT. A student may access something inappropriate or send an unkind message, but that shouldn’t mean that the technology or the application should be banned. Instead, the members of the learning community should develop new goals for working on the problematic behaviors and realize that they are not technology issues.
The resiliency learned as a child within a nurturing community of practice could have long term implications on their success as adult learners and contributors within future work environments. By learning responsible ways to use personal technology tools in a BYOT learning community, hopefully students will be able to develop good digital footprints that can last a lifetime.
Wenger, Etienne (June, 2006). Communities of Practice: A brief introduction. Retrieved on May 22, 2013, http://www.ewenger.com/theory/.