Posts Tagged Digital Age Skills

Communication for Personalized Learning


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



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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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Sustainable Practices for Digital Age Learning


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


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


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.


Sustainability. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved November 26, 2013, from

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Day 5 of BYOT

This is Day 5 of a series of posts this week to provide strategies for the first week of school in a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) classroom.  These ideas are my suggestions for developing a learning community during the first five days of school.  Hopefully, this sense of community will lead to an effective BYOT implementation for the rest of the year as students learn and practice the digital age skills of communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.  Please modify these activities to better suit the needs, interests, and abilities of your students.

Scenario:  This week the students have begun to construct an online presence through their collaborative work in Wikispaces, Edmodo, and Edublogs with the combined use of school, home, and personal technology tools.  By designing their online profiles in these digital habitats, they have personalized their learning experiences.  By discovering and recognizing the abilities, interests, and strengths of themselves and of the other members of their learning community, they are positioned to develop a brand, reputation, and digital footprint that can lead to future academic success and someday maybe even to new career opportunities.  Rather than to deliver a standardized curriculum that is assessed with traditional multiple choice tests, the vital role of the teacher is to guide the development of these individual and collaborative pursuits and passions.

Activity – Spark a Passion

This week, Shelly Terrell wrote a post entitled 10 Kids Transforming their World through Social Media.  That well-written post describe the efforts of 10 children and teens who are making a difference with the use of digital skills and tools about their particular passions.  One young teen, Adora Svitak gave a Ted Talk called What Adults Can Learn from Kids; she is an author who has written books, maintains a website, and speaks at educational conferences.  According to her website, “Adora believes that everyone deserves the opportunity that comes with literacy and a good education.”  In her efforts to accomplish this endeavor, she believes that learning with teachers and children should be “reciprocal,” and a major feature of this learning environment is “trust.”

Likewise, trust has to be a focal element in the BYOT classroom.  There really is no way that a teacher cannot empower students to learn with so many different devices and use so many web tools without developing a learning community that is founded on trust for everyone in the group.  As the students begin to explore and develop new interests and practice digital age skills, the teacher should model high expectations that sustain trust in the learning community.

Here are some ways to model high expectations:

  • Celebrate diversity.  Appreciate the differences among your students and recognize that those differences are important to the strength of the learning community as everyone has the potential to add something unique.
  • Challenge everyone.  A way of increasing rigor in the classroom is to expect everyone to achieve and complete high quality work that includes in-depth reflection and practice.
  • Believe students want to do the right thing.  This is a big issue.  Some teachers are suspicious that their students want to break rules or view inappropriate content.  Engage your students in their learning by empowering them to make choices and use their devices as needed.
  • Follow the teachable moment.  Don’t get so attached to your lesson plans and standards that you miss great teaching opportunities.  Many of the best lessons in the BYOT classroom happen just in time at the moment they’re needed.
  • Share your interests with the students.  The students will be more willing to share and discuss their passions when they realize that their teacher is a real person with personal interests and aspirations.

Steps to spark a passion:

Share the stories of the students given in Shelly Terrell’s post and have them listen to Adora Svitak’s Ted Talk.  As students get older, they often get more accustomed to being told what to do, and they need to understand that they are expected to get involved and make choices.  Hearing about what other young people are able to achieve through their passion and dedication can be motivating.

Another great post to motivate students is Caine’s Arcade – What Happened During a Summer Freed From Texts, Tests, & Teachers coauthored by Lisa Nielsen and Lisa Cooley.  That post relates the story of Caine who followed his passion and utilized his creativity to accomplish something amazing!

The following activity was inspired by a suggestion by Jeremy Angoff.  Have students brainstorm ideas about current issues or events that they think should be addressed.  Use one of the community’s online spaces for this discussion.  An option is to use the short answer question in Socrative to generate responses and then host the discussion within Edmodo.  Another student could accumulate all of the different options in one page in the class wiki in Wikispaces.  The page could be called, Issues that Concern Us or Ways We Can Make a Difference.

Students can work independently or in groups to choose and research an issue.  This is a good time to discuss safe searching, and what type of search engine to use depending on the age of the students.  Have the students draft what they learn about that issue or concern in their student blogs in Edublogs.  This activity also provides an opportunity to explain how to provide credit various online sources of information.  The students should then reflect on what they could do to make a difference regarding their issue and develop a plan in their blogs for putting their ideas into action.

Homework (Post this assignment in Edmodo.)

Now that you are empowered with your personal technology tools in BYOT, social networking tools, and an idea you are passionate about, begin putting your plan into action.  Document your strategies and activities in your blog so that you can share them with the rest of your learning community.

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Just in Time Learning for BYOT

I have sometimes heard the misconception that before a school begins implementing Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT), students need to be trained in the acceptable use of technology that has been predetermined by the district; however, many of the digital age skills that students are developing as they use their devices at school occur just in time as they are needed in the course of the process of learning.  Just in time learning entails that as a specialized strategy is necessary to solve a problem or share a solution, then that skill is learned and utilized in a relevant way within the context of the work.  There are several just in time skills that students begin to acquire within the BYOT classroom.

Just in Time Digital Citizenship

We have all heard of students making mistakes with technology or using it inappropriately, often with devastating consequences.  Many of these issues occur because students are self-taught or peer-taught in how they should use their devices without the just in time guidance of a teacher.  When students are empowered to bring their personal technology devices to school to assume more control of their learning, they can be coached in responsible ways to use technology.  Students in the BYOT classroom, have the advantage of learning how to use their devices for instructional purposes with the facilitation of their teachers.  Students continually practice and refine digital citizenship in the BYOT classroom as they learn with each other through the use of the same technology devices that they use at home.  Skills in netiquette, the appropriate ways to communicate with others online, as well as strategies for ensuring Internet safety, can be encouraged by the teacher within the BYOT learning community.

Just in Time Technical Troubleshooting

As devices and applications continue to change, there is no one consistent method for resolving technical issues.  Technical troubleshooting and instruction must occur just in time in the BYOT classroom according to the pertinent needs of the situation.  Teachers and students learn how to use new technology tools and programs while they are being utilized, and students often provide the technical training for their peers and their teachers.  Since students are utilizing different devices for instruction, they will have to become proficient with the technical aspects of their own tools and usually become recognized for their particular areas of expertise.  In this way, students and teachers can develop critical problem-solving strategies for working and learning within a digital world.

Just in Time Collaboration

Learning how to work with others to achieve a common purpose is essential to the BYOT classroom because students are bringing different devices to school, and those devices have different capabilities.  The students also possess different knowledge, abilities, and interests, therefore, they have to pool their resources and intellect and negotiate responsibilities for the learning.  Groups need to be dynamic and fluid as students work together and with their teacher to share information and make decisions.  Many Web 2.0 sites can be used to develop online collaborative spaces, including Edmodo and WikispacesJust in time collaboration can occur synchronously or asynchronously and capitalizes on the potential strengths of everyone in the learning community.

Just in Time Critical Thinking

Critical thinking with BYOT involves being able to distinguish among conflicting information and facts as students conduct research with their personal devices.  Recognizing propaganda and determining the accuracy of content are other essential critical thinking abilities required by the digital age.  Students need to develop the capacity to use reason as they formulate opinions based on what they already know and on what they have learned from their classmates and in online searches.  Students learning how to make these decisions just in time can be nurtured by the classroom teacher through modeling, practicing, reflecting, and questioning.  A great tool for posing questions to students is Socrative.  It works across multiple devices and incorporates various types of questions, and teachers can easily create follow up questions to responses that students have texted and shared with the rest of the class.

Just in Time Communication

In the traditional classroom, communication is often one-way – directed from the teacher and toward the student.  In the BYOT classroom, there is a potential shift in communication as students use their devices to discuss content they are learning with others, set goals for themselves, and share new concepts.  This communication happens just in time as the students are encouraged to communicate, whenever and wherever, as a function and expression of learning.  The lines of communication are now multi-directional and extend beyond the classroom as students can web conference through Skype with other students in classrooms around the globe.  They can instantaneously publish their ideas by blogging using Edublogs or through other blogging tools.  Blogs can become a lasting portfolio of student work, and this process of authorship helps students to develop an authentic and beneficial digital footprint.

Just in Time Creativity

With the abundance of free and inexpensive applications for mobile devices, students are able to develop new skills in creativity.  In the BYOT classroom, teachers can help foster creativity as students utilize their personal technology tools to invent and design original products.  These inventions are often constructed just in time as solutions to problems or for students to illustrate what they have learned in imaginative new ways.  In this manner, students aspire to become producers of content that they find relevant rather than solely being consumers of static information that has been predetermined as meaningful for students.  With netbooks and laptops, students can download the free, open source, program Audacity to develop podcasts and recordings, or they can record straight to their handheld devices.  Students can also use the camera tools on their devices to take photographs and easily turn these photos into new creations with the use of iPhoneography apps (my favorite is Pixlr-o-matic). VoiceThread is a web tool (with an app for mobile devices) that can enable multiple users to upload their original photos and comment on them collaboratively.

One more note… Just in Time

By the way, just in time professional learning opportunities also emerge for teachers in the BYOT classroom as they learn alongside their students and discover new interests, skills, and strengths in the use of personal technology for instruction.

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