Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Building Learning Relationships through Goals, Feedback and Reflection

Today’s post is brought to you by Don Taylor, language arts and social studies teacher at Main Street Middle School in Montpelier
and co-director of PLP Pathways.

In our last blog entry, we discussed a variety of opportunities to personalize learning communities through reflection and feedback, goal-setting, and the use of personal learning plans. In particular we addressed the idea that the incorporation of feedback and reflection into existing learning opportunities can help teachers develop a better sense of student understanding and learning  dispositions. We wrote:


By employing Google Forms, Blogger, Kahoot surveys, or simply asking for student feedback on exit tickets, teachers can monitor student growth and learning. More importantly, through the development of thoughtful reflection prompts and activities, teachers can help students develop the skills necessary to monitor and evaluate their own learning. To take reflection one step further, teachers can use reflection or feedback data as discussion points for curriculum modification, to build classroom norms, and to promote democratic decision making.


Since writing this, I’ve been thinking more deeply about how teachers might consider integrating these exercises into real-time learning opportunities in order to build stronger relationships with students and to provide more effective instruction.


Integrated Goals and Reflection


Just as we monitor student understanding through the use of formative assessments, exit tickets, and reflections, teachers may also want to consider integrating student-goal setting and reflection on a daily basis within the learning context. Through the monitoring of this goal setting and reflection, teachers can use the acquired information to directly support students in real time and through that process, build stronger collaborative relationships with students.


For example, students in my classroom are currently working on collaborative projects that require a wide range of literacy and transferable skills. At the beginning of the project, students reviewed the standards for proficiency in writing, collaboration, and habits of learning. Students were asked to set short-term, project-based goals based on those proficiencies. Every few days throughout the project, students monitor their project-based goals and then spend a few minutes reflecting on their performance at the conclusion of learning activities.


In the adjacent example, you can see the proficiency rubric designed in collaboration with students.


As students move through the learning activities, they self-identify areas of proficiency, skills that need work, and areas of success. For example, this student identified two specific areas of proficiency (highlighted in yellow).

They then commented on how they exceeded the proficiency standard. This process can lead to rich learning experiences that are extremely beneficial for developing teaching practices. In particular, this practice can feed into reflection activities, goal-setting, and the collection of evidence for the student’s personal learning plans.


As the instructor, I visit with students, discuss their project-based goals using the PLP platform,  and discuss the self-evaluation process. More importantly, I can use this information to review and develop educational supports I can provide to help them reach proficiencies. These discussions may evolve into brief mini-lessons with small groups or, as happened earlier this week, large group instruction to review critical literacy skills.


The essential understanding is that by having kids set short term goals within the learning activities or unit, reflecting on their performance, and through informal teacher monitoring, teachers can develop a more granular understanding of student needs and dispositions. Essentially, reviewing student progress towards goals informs my teaching practice which subsequently leads directly to the introduction or modification of learning activities that lead students to proficiency and creates stronger learning relationships.


When students recognize and realize that their goal-setting, reflection, and feedback is helping to shape the learning community, it is my experience that they become more active and engaged participants in the learning community.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Elements of Personalization -- Moving Step by Step

Today’s post is brought to you by Don Taylor, language arts and social studies teacher at Main Street Middle School in Montpelier and co-director of PLP Pathways.


Personalized learning can be a nebulous term with all sorts of connotations. Teachers, schools, and learning communities often have different ideas regarding the concepts, implementation, and desired outcomes for personalization and personalized learning.


For the sake of today’s post, let’s adopt the Vermont Agency of Education’s definition: “Personalization is “a learning process in which schools help students assess their own talents and aspirations, plan a pathway toward their own purposes, work cooperatively with others in challenging tasks, maintain a record of explorations, and demonstrate their learning against clear standards in a wide variety of media, all with the close support of adult mentors and guides.” (National Association of Secondary School Principals)¹


As with so many initiatives, personalized learning can be overwhelming for today’s educator. How can teachers start with small, manageable, activities that build personalized learning into their learning environment? Here are four suggestions that are easy to implement, relatively low-risk, and can build student engagement and self-direction.


Students Assess Their Own Talents = Regular Reflection


Incorporating regular student-reflection into existing curriculum activities can be an invaluable source of student feedback, curriculum development, and an essential building block for developing strong relationships in the classroom.


By employing Google Forms, Blogger, Kahoot surveys, or simply asking for student feedback on exit tickets, teachers can monitor student growth and learning. More importantly, through the development of thoughtful reflection prompts and activities, teachers can help students develop the skills necessary to monitor and evaluate their own learning.


Including reflection activities as a regular classroom feature can also help teachers monitor the learning dispositions of individual students and the learning community as a whole. To take reflection one step further, teachers can use reflection or feedback data as discussion points for curriculum modification, to build classroom norms, and to promote democratic decision making.


Plan A Pathway Forward = Setting Goals


Whether they be single class session, weekly, or quarterly, encouraging students to set, monitor, and achieve goals is another straightforward strategy that adds personalization to the learning environment. Setting goals can be simple: ask students to make a list of the things they want to accomplish during the class period. Setting goals can also be complex: ask students to review their principles and values, the transferable skills, and their aspirations and set specific goals for the semester. Regardless of the scope, encouraging students to set goals on a regular basis can help students develop this valuable skill.


What’s most important about goals, according to students themselves, is that the goals be revisited regularly and that they be based on what’s important to the student. Intrinsic goals are the most powerful and when students see that those can be practiced in the classroom, they tend to be more engaged. Furthermore, as students are enabled and allowed to set goals independently, their learning experience, within the context of the classroom, becomes more personal.


Maintain A Record of Explorations = Personal Learning Plans


As Act 77 has matured, schools and districts have implemented personal learning plans into their programs. While these have taken a variety of forms and formats, the basic personal learning plan platform provides a golden opportunity for personalization. In order to keep track of student growth and learning, teachers and students can collaborate on the accumulation of evidence in the personal learning plan. This evidence can be used to set goals, self-assess progress, and as material for the development of reflective and metacognitive thinking. Depending on the platform, students can also begin designing and formatting their learning plan using concepts of graphic design and presentation that fits their aesthetic values. Again, the insertion of evidence into the personal learning plan or regularly scheduled time to work on the plan, can provide the opportunity for increased personalization in the classroom.


Demonstrate Their Learning in A Wide Variety of Media = Multiple Modes of Expression


With the infusion of technology into 21st century classrooms, teachers and students have access to a wide range of methods, applications, and platforms to demonstrate student learning. Giving students a choice of standards-based options to express their understanding can be another opportunity for personalization in the classroom. Podcasts, slideshows, screencasts, and online storyboard programs are all examples of media that students can use to demonstrate their understanding of class and curriculum concepts. These options can also foster the innovation, creativity, and skill-building that lead to a dynamic learning environment.


Conclusions

Integrating concepts of personalized learning into the classroom can be a progression that occurs incrementally. It’s important for teachers to understand that incorporating concepts of personalization does not mean the complete overhaul of educational programming. Instead, using these four activities, teachers can begin building a step-by-step foundation for personalized learning.

Resources
1. Personalized Learning | Agency of Education. (2017). Education.vermont.gov. Retrieved 15 November 2017,

Monday, October 23, 2017


This post is from PLP Pathways contributor Maura Wieler, Proficiency Based Learning and Technology Integration Coach at Lamoille South Supervisory Union.

A Smarter Take on Goal Setting?


A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a conference called Grading Exceptional and Struggling Learners with Lee Ann Jung. If your school is in the process of transitioning to a proficiency-based grading and reporting system, chances are you have read an article or an excerpt from a book authored by Jung or her colleague Thomas Guskey.


Screen Shot 2017-10-23 at 9.13.30 PM.pngDuring her presentation she discussed a process to support struggling and exceptional learners through the development of a growth plan. The growth plan helps the student set goals and track progress towards meeting those goals using a process called goal-attainment scaling.  The focus of the presentation was around teacher created goals. However, my gears started turning when considering how to use this process with students to build their goals for the school year.


How does Goal-Attainment Scaling Work?


Goal attainment scaling is a method of tracking progress that was initially developed in the health field to track medical rehabilitation. It is now being used in special education to develop goals and communicate student progress towards meeting those learning growth  goals.


As Jung was talking about the process of special education case managers using this process to develop goals, I started to think about the power of using the structure of goal attainment scaling to empower students in the goal setting process. Goal-attainment scaling relies on the creation of a specific goal using the following format, very similar to a Mad Libs activity:


In [settings], I will [skill and behavior] [preposition], [acquisition criterion] [preposition] [fluency criterion]


Example:


In Language Arts and Social Studies class I will stay organized and write down my assignments every class with a strategy that works for me for a full week.


I would encourage a teacher to use language that students are familiar with to build a classroom specific goal setting sentence that would support the learners in their classroom. Once the student creates the goal, the next step is to  make their scale. The goal sits at the top of the scale.

4
In Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies class I will stay organized and write down my assignments every class with a strategy that works for me for a full week.
3.5

3
In Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies class I will stay organized and write down my assignments with a strategy that works for me three nights in a row.
2.5

2
In Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies class I will stay organized and write down my assignments with a strategy that works for me three nights in a row.
1.5

1
In Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies I will stay organized and write down my assignments for one night using an organizational strategy.
.5

Now
Baseline - this is where a student would describe what they can currently do.

The scale has four descriptive statements, with the ultimate goal at the top and then three statements underneath. The other criteria parts of the scale are left blank, allowing for more growth and reflection.


I could imagine students using emojis, instead of numbers at the “score” or create a 1-8 scale instead of half points. The key is that students would be identifying three steps describing what progress would look like between where they are currently performing and their goal.


I can also imagine a student drawing four images to capture the four performance levels between where they currently are and what it will look like when they achieve their goal.


How will these goals support student reflection?


Writing a student goal using a goal-attainment scale helps a student to visualize what progress would look like at four different steps in their growth. Students would match their reflection with what part of the scale they are currently performing, and then would be able to use a reflective tool to help communicate their next steps and supports that they need. The numerical side of the scale helps the student articulate their current stage and measure their progress.


It is also important in this process to honor that when we are building new skills, we will slide up and down the scale. It is common to make some growth, and then find that our progress may have regressed back down the scale. This is all a part of the process of working towards reaching goals.


My Students Already Set Goals, Are We Too Late?

For me, the process of goal attainment scaling has the potential for students to identify specific benchmarks for themselves as stepping stones to help identify progress and also develop a path towards meeting their goal. The piece around the scale helps a student to quickly identify and reflect on where they are in the process of reaching their goal in a clear and specific way.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Building Identity Units Through the Personal Learning Framework

Today’s post is brought to you by Don Taylor, language arts and social studies teacher at Main Street Middle School in Montpelier and co-director of PLP Pathways.

The school year is in full swing and as we build our learning communities, developing an understanding of student identity and their strengths and challenges is a critical step for educators.  Most middle schools around the state have structures that work towards these goals. Specifically, teacher’s advisory, multiage teaming, and personal learning plans are all tools that can help teachers understand individual student needs, Using this knowledge to develop strong relationships with students and families can pay long-term dividends in student engagement and achievement.

PLF.pngAnother tool that PLP Pathways has been using for the past several years is the Personal Learning Framework. Through the identification of specific stages in the student learning process, the framework can help teachers develop personalized learning activities that support positive relationships, identify key student dispositions, and inform the construction of curriculum that is relevant, engaging, and appropriate.

Personalized Learning Activities

The first six weeks of our program is built around the Identity phase of the Personal Learning Framework. Rather than have students read, write, and think about esoteric topics that might miss the mark, students are asked to evaluate their strengths and challenges, to identify principles and values as reflected through their positive relationships, and to closely observe both their immediate learning environment and cultural norms of the school and community.  

Teachers around the state have developed innovative activities that also integrate standards-based proficiencies into these activities. Samples of these lessons can be found here. The result is that teachers are gaining better insight into their students’ skill sets, leveraging that understanding into the development of strong student-teacher-family relationships, and having students post identity-based evidence onto their PLP.

The benefits of integrating proficiency-based learning activities into an identity unit is clear. Teachers gain a deep understanding of students often leading to positive relationships. Second, adolescents are engaged when activities focus on their needs, skills, and potential. Furthermore, by systematically planning identity activities, teachers can develop personalized curriculum that supports student growth and learning. As you move forward, consider using the Personal Learning Framework as a lens to develop curriculum and activities that enrich and focus your understanding of students into effective teaching practice.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Welcome to the 2017-2018 School Year!

Today’s post is brought to you by Don Taylor, language arts and social studies teacher at Main Street Middle School in Montpelier and co-director of PLP Pathways.

Welcome to the 2017 - 2018 edition of PLP Pathways! Many of us have spent the summer reflecting, rejuvenating, and recharging for the start of the new school year. A casual review of tweets, posts, and feeds indicates that many Vermont educators have set high expectations and professional goals for the year; PLP Pathways welcomes the opportunity to support you on those educational journeys.

For those not familiar with our organization, PLP Pathways is a teacher-led professional development community created to support the implementation of the three pillars of personalized learning (personal learning plans, proficiency-based assessment, and flexible pathways) and the development of innovative curriculum for Vermont.

Like many collaboratives across the state, we’re trying to build relationships across schools, communities, and organizations. The difference is that our program has been created by teachers for teachers. We’ve developed a variety of grassroots resources, activities, and media to help you stay up to speed with Act 77, to be in touch with other educators across the state, and to share your successes and challenges. You can follow us on Twitter, join or view our webinars on YouTube, or access relevant resources through our website. If you’ve got information or material that you think would help kids, teachers, and communities, let us know and we’ll spotlight those resources.


As an example of how we try to build connections across and between learning communities, we’d like to share work being done by UP for Learning. “The organization provides training, resource development, and on-going support for a wide variety of initiatives that develop opportunities for young people to assume meaningful roles in shaping their learning and their lives.” UP for Learning seeks to “...increase youth engagement by developing youth-adult partnerships in learning to ensure that each and every young person has the skills, self-confidence, and opportunities to assume meaningful roles in shaping their learning and their lives.”
Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.06.06 PM.png
This year, UP for Learning has created a resource for partnering with students around proficiency-based learning. “Stories on the Road to Proficiency” is a compendium of video options to help spark dialogue and further understanding about the implementation of proficiency-based learning. It validates that this work has both challenges and rightful moments of celebration. It also provides compelling testimony that the destination is well worth the effort.

In addition to the videos, UP for Learning has created a dialogue guide to help build partnerships with students around proficiency based learning. You can find all of this material on the UP for Learning website.


Over the course of the year, PLP Pathways will be featuring similar programs, educators, resources, and media that we hope supports your work implementing Act 77. We look forward to reconnecting with familiar faces, exploring new learning communities, and having a great 2017-2018 school year. Good luck with the opening days of school and keep in touch!


Monday, June 26, 2017

Power, Purpose, and Partnership @ the 2017 P2 Summit

This post was written by Tevye Kelman of UP for Learning and originally appeared on the Center for Collaborative Education blog. Posted with permission.

In a recent post on the Center for Collaborative Education blog, Diana Lebeaux argues that personalization doesn’t automatically equate to meaningful student-centered learning.  That requires giving young people real power to determine the course of their inquiry and to shape the structures and environments in which they learn through “critical thinking opportunities, a questioning of history, and processes by which to ensure equitable participation.”  Because student agency is essential to the success of school redesign, Lebeaux contends, “we must be brave enough, after we have facilitated learning as rigorously as possible, to let students dismantle the very systems on which we stand, if they so choose.”

This year’s Power Squared: Youth and Adults Shaping Vermont Education Together (P2  for short) Summit at the Lake Morey Inn in Fairlee, Vermont offered a vision, or rather several visions, of agency in practice.  The conference—hosted by UP for Learning, Shelburne Farms, Partnership for Change, Big Picture Learning and the School Project Foundation, with support from the Bay & Paul Foundations-- brought student-adult teams from sixteen Vermont schools to talk, and showcase, student agency.

In her opening remarks, conference co-facilitator Clara Lew-Smith, a junior at Hazen Union High School, defined agency as “the ability to make intentional choices about and take an active role in the course of one’s life and on behalf of the lives of others” and suggested it has three key ingredients.

Personal power,” she said, is “your belief in your own ability to shape your life with intention and have control over the direction.  Partnership is multiple people taking that power and bringing it together, collaborating and deciding on mutual goals and directions, leading to something greater than sum of its parts.  And purpose is taking that power and partnership and spreading it outward, saying ‘Now that we have this within ourselves, how are we going to use this to affect the environment around us?’”

Answers to that question were plentiful in the morning sharing sessions, during which school teams presented their work and discussed their youth-adult partnership initiatives.  In one room, a team from the Burlington High School School Innovation Seminar shared successes and challenges from their ongoing student consultancy work, in which students help teachers solve authentic professional problems like “Does self-assessment work as an assessment strategy?” or “How do students perceive the obstacles and barriers to speaking out about bullying and harassment?”   

In another, three 9th graders from BFA Fairfax spoke eloquently about their experiences teaching a new course about metacognition for their peers, as well as running workshops in faculty meetings about the concepts of fixed and growth mindset.  One presenter noted, “at the beginning, teachers were just trying to adapt, but by the end they were really participating, and used that in classes… I think it was just realizing when they were having a fixed mindset or negative self-talk and having them switch.”

Down the hall, a team from Randolph Union High School described a new project-based learning class in Restorative Justice.  Junior Lukina Andreyev explained how grounding their work in research about Vermont’s school-to-prison pipeline gave a sense of relevance and urgency.  Because inequities in the justice system are rooted in the separation caused by punitive discipline at school, she said, training students and adults in their school to take part in restorative justice circles helps “heal that separation when there’s some kind of conflict.  Our goal is to grow a community full of trust and respect among everybody, so it’s less likely for students to feel like they need to leave the community.”

In all of these sessions, partnership and purpose were clearly evident, as students and adults collaborated to solve problems affecting their shared work and experience.  But what was most striking was the degree to which each of these teams, in different ways, was given real power to effect change in domains traditionally off-limits to students: classroom practice, curriculum planning, even disciplinary action.  These were powerful learning experiences not simply because students got to make choices or study subjects outside the “core curriculum,” but because they did so in a context where their learning and choices had visible impact on things they cared about.

Accessing that kind of power can be hard, says Manny Dodson, a Burlington High School sophomore. “Not even personal power, but power to make a change.  It can be hard going through all the stages that are required to do something meaningful within the school.”  But he believes having that kind of power makes the difference between students seeing personalized learning as a forced choice among unappealing options, and seeing it as meaningful.  “In a system where a kid is going to school because they have to and don’t feel connected to their teachers or the subjects, they feel like they have less power… being able to choose what you want and being able to advocate for it:  that’s power. In a system where you’re allowed to have choice and voice, you’d actually be motivated to be in school.”

Choice and voice: both are key.  Focusing too narrowly on choice in the conversation about redesigning schools risks missing opportunities to realize the transformative potential of efforts like Personalized Learning or Vermont’s Act 77: Flexible Pathways legislation.  To be successful, such efforts must elevate the notion of voice beyond superficial and limited student input, and find ways to rethink the roles and distribution of power in our education system to one of authentic partnership in learning and school redesign.  

Note: This post originally appeared on the Center for Collaborative Education blog

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Project Based Learning: Engineering Edition

This blog post is from U-32 science teacher and PLP Pathways contributor Alison Gauthier.

On the Global Studies end, learners focused on various countries and policies in place to combat climate change. They learned about how the GDP of specific affected countries influences the policies people in the country are able to carry out. Learners also researched countries in the Global North versus the Global South and looked at the disparities in GDP between countries CAUSING the climate change and the countries BEING affected.

On the Earth Science end, learners engaged in scientific concepts around types of radiation received from the sun, the greenhouse effect, and the specific mechanism at play to increase the temperature of the planet.

After learning (and demonstrating understanding) about the general (and minor specific details) related to the greenhouse effect, learners were put in small groups of two or three persons. Each group was a country the learners had been exposed to during the Global Studies portion of the unit. Each country/group was awarded the GDP stated for that country. Each group had to research the specific climate change problems affecting their country, and brainstorm various solutions to each problem. Ultimately, each country chose one problem to focus on, and were charged with finding one feasible solution that they could model. T

he goal was that this model would show how that particular solution would lessen the effects of that problem. Each country had "their GDP" to use to buy materials to model their solution. Materials at the back of the room in the "supplies corner" each had an associated price. Costs of the materials were inflated to better represent the cost to make that sort of model on a larger scale. As examples, paper was $100 a sheet, a paperclip was $20, and glass beakers were $1,000 each.

Go to this site to learn more about the Earth Science unit plan and science concepts within the unit.

The solutions that learners came up with were of a great variety. Each solution had to be testable; that is, the solution had to produce a set of data. This set of data was analyzed and used by the countries to ultimately "show" that their solution produced favorable data. When countries tested a solution, they were able to determine if that specific solution did in fact produce data. If the solution wasn't data producing, or the data didn't support the expected or hoped hypothesis, the group revised the solution and re-attempted the trials to see if the revisions were favorable for the solution.

As a specific example, one country/group was assigned Bangladesh. Bangladesh's GDP is small so they sent representatives from the group to speak with USA and Germany to get outside funding. Once a donation amount was determined, it was approved by me if both parties were present and able to shake on the transfer of funds. Bangladesh's problem (as one of the results of climate change) was flooding. The solution the country chose was to make the "ideal home" to combat that problem. They designed a home on stilts that had certain unique features that would secure the stilts in to the ground and collect rain water into the home. They designed specific measurements for the home based on demographic information they collected about the people of Bangladesh. They added up the costs to make their model, and once they realized that the fundraiser enabled the construction, they built the home on stilts. They tested the home with two conditions; soil in the base and rocks in the base in order to determine the efficacy of their solution.

Here is an image of the "ideal home" for Bangladesh that they constructed to mitigate the effects of climate change that are specific to that country:

During the testing process:

Countries were given guidance as the process continued. In most groups, there was a natural delegation of responsibility based on each learner's abilities and interests.

In one group of three, for example, the group decided that one person was ultimately responsible for the design and construction, one person was responsible for the finances and data, and the third participant was responsible for pulling all items together into the presentation. In other groups, facilitation by the teacher was required to enable the ninth grade learners to each have a significant role in the project and outcomes.

Class-wide check-ins occurred at the beginning of class (75 minutes long), and then groups were free to work on their design, construction, testing and revisions as they pleased. Here is the engineering process diagram that the countries and I often referred to when discussing the progress of the solution and steps moving forward:

Each class, I would conference/check-in with groups individually. After approximately a month of group-led class time, each country presented to the class. The presentations themselves did not contribute to their overall proficiency scores for the unit (or weren't required I could say), but some students were actually able to demonstrate their proficiency on one or more of the scales through the presentation. Other learners demonstrated their proficiency to me DURING the actual group work and process. Other learners didn't yield evidence during the country process or during the presentation; those learners met with me or re-performed in a more traditional manner. Here is the cover sheet from this unit. The proficiency scales used to give learners feedback on their progress are within the cover sheet.

Following the presentations, learners received SUMMATIVE feedback on their learning up to that point in the unit. They were able to ask questions about the feedback and make plans to move forward. At that time as well, they added one or two products to their Personalized Learning Sites (PLSs) and reflected on their progress over the unit. They were allowed to choose any "products" to embed in the site. Some embedded images of their solution/design that they tested; others put a link to a Google sheet where they managed and analyzed all the data from their solution.

While learners worked on their sites, I met with students individually to conference about their learning during the unit and make steps moving forward for the students who needed to reperform. Prior to this unit, I would simply hand back summative feedback. When doing this, I would find that there was often confusion or questions that individuals would have for me. By discussing the feedback during a conference, learners felt more comfortable to ask questions and make an action plan moving forward (either for reperformance within that unit or goals for the next time they worked in a group or with a similar set of skills).

I was curious if the conferences was a more meaningful way to receive feedback, so I polled my three ninth-grade sections of Earth Science. These are the quantitative results from the polls. After each quantitative-yielding question, a qualitative question was asked.The qualitative information from the students included ideas going forward and why they preferred the student-led conferences or not.





Overall, the feedback was in favor of student-led conferences as the way to receive summative feedback following a unit. The conversations during the conferences were rich; in fact, some learners were able to quickly demonstrate that they knew something during the conference that hadn't been expressed during the group presentation or group work.