Posts Tagged trust

Community for Personalized Learning

Community.jpg

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. TRUST.pngThis 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.

 

 

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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

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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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Learning to TRUST with Responsible Use

(Cross-posted at Bold Visions and BYOT Network and cowritten by Jill Hobson, Director of Instructional Technology and Dr. Tim Clark, Coordinator of Instructional Technology – Forsyth County Schools.)

BYOT_babyWhen do you begin teaching responsible use? It should start at birth. Many parents begin creating the child’s digital footprint before the child is even born by posting the ultrasound photo on social media. Ideally when the child enters school you would expect a child to know how to share, take turns, listen to other opinions and know the difference between right and wrong and some understanding of social norms for public and private behavior. In reality we realize that some children come to school unprepared with some of those social skills and so we nurture and model and teach appropriate behavior until these become internalized.

For example,we live in an era where parents have some model for the “sex talk” because most people participated in such a conversation(s) as a child.  There are multiple books and blogs and other resources to help parents with how to handle this issue.  But who among us as parents has a model for ongoing digital citizenship conversation? Most adults have developed their knowledge of social media through experimentation without guidance, yet we wouldn’t want our kids to learn about sex in that way! So, this is an area where the school has a responsibility to step in and join with families in the work of teaching digital citizenship.

From the beginning of a child’s school career, learning about responsible must be an everyday, ongoing, just in time experience. Where would a school find resources for this kind of instruction? One powerful tool for schools AND parents that we recommend is Common Sense Media.

In addition it seems that when issues occur where a young person makes a mistake, the initial reaction leans towards banning whatever device, app or website was involved as a solution.  While this is a quick way to deal with the immediate issue, it misses the larger need to educate students on how to live in a world of the open Internet.  Students need to learn what it means to responsibly make use of these tools.  And it means that we need to know what to do when we end up in the wrong place, when we mess up, or make a poor choice.  How do young people learn to “course correct” without some guidance from the adults in their lives?

Forsyth County Schools has begun to address the way we deal with issue by moving away from the traditional Acceptable Use Guidelines that include a long list of “thou shalt nots” and has replaced them with the FCS Responsible Use Guidelines.  These guidelines include 5 statements outlining behaviors all members of the FCS community will exhibit regarding digital citizenship. We started to recognize that we had been focusing on the 5% of students who might not follow directions and were making all of the “rules” to deal with their issues.  Our goal in transforming the Acceptable Use Guidelines into Responsible Use Guidelines was to focus on the 95% of students who are going to do the right thing.

The district will begin its sixth year of its Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative in the 2013-2014 school year.  At the onset of implementing BYOT, it seemed necessary to control the devices and applications the students were using in order to ensure safety.  There was some concern about what would happen when students brought their own technology tools to school, and the district leaned heavily on its filtered network as a measure of control.  The big A-HA moment came when students brought devices to school and generally used them responsibly and safely, and the few issues that arose were identified as behavioral concerns to be addressed rather than being technology problems.  The district outgrew its one-size-fits-all Acceptable Use Guidelines and began its quest to develop the new FCS Responsible Use Guidelines.  Some goals of this effort were to have consistent home-school communication and support; to provide some flexibility to local school communities; to teach digital citizenship within the context of students’ personal devices,; and to encompass the growing diversity and different expectations of our learning community.

Here is a poster that we have developed to express the five traits and expectations of the new FCS Responsible Use Guidelines embedded within the overarching concept of TRUST:



We TRUST that the new school year with the new FCS Responsible Use Guidelines will have a renewed focus on digital age learning and citizenship.  To review the FCS Responsible Use Guidelines, please visit http://www.forsyth.k12.ga.us/responsibleuse.

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Cultivating a Learning Community with BYOT

CommunityA 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.

  1. CoP_BYOTTrust – 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Reference

Wenger, Etienne (June, 2006). Communities of Practice: A brief introduction. Retrieved on May 22, 2013, http://www.ewenger.com/theory/.

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