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.”
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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.

Friday, May 19, 2017

On Outdoor Education: Emphasize the Process

Today's blog entry is from St. Michael's graduate student Michael Boyd, class of 2018

Have a conversation with anyone who went to a middle school in the States. I bet it won’t take too long until you find that it is generally an uncomfortable time in one’s life. This notion of apathy and emotional unrest in middle school is not unusual when people are asked about their experiences.
Why is that?

During middle school, students are in their formative years in terms of cognitive, physical, social, romantic and spiritual development, change is hard, especially when it’s all at once. According to the 2013 Gallup poll on school engagement, 45% of students in this age range were disengaged in traditional school-based learning.

It's hard to blame the students!

Their entire world is changing through them, and having been exposed to the same process of education for the past seven (or so) years, they grow apathetic. This is disheartening news to any middle grades educator, but a multitude of evidence suggests implementation of outdoor educational activities can combat this apathy. Educational academics, Joan K. James and Theresa Williams argue in their paper School-Based Experiential Outdoor Education that the Invisible Child (their term for a student who shows apathy towards a curriculum of only traditional learning processes and who tends to be lost in the flock of their peers) benefits greatly from outdoor education that can  improve critical thinking skills and lead to  leadership positions amongst their classmates.

James and Williams lobby that outdoor education, especially during one’s formative years, is crucial  to leveling the educational field for the invisible child. Clearly, adding another environment in which  students can  learn provides  additional student learning dispositions  to be accessed, which can benefit a student who falters in more traditional environments.

Examples of this expansive method of education can be seen in programs such as the Willowell Foundation of Bristol,Vermont, or the Chadwick School of Palos,California. These outdoor schools emphasize self-dependency in a supportive setting, exhibiting results that show graduates who are emotionally stable, personally strong and functioning at high cognitive capacities.

These dispositions are invaluable for a student who is transitioning from the middle grades into high school in order for them to make quality decisions in a time when their choices carry more weight and influence.

Here is a great video of an Oregon Outdoor School!

I see outdoor education as a crucial push-back against the ever narrowing lens that modern education seems to be viewed: curriculum emphasizing test preparation. The standards-based, test-taking approach de-emphasizes the elements of personal and active learning that can come to fruition through outdoor education.

With this "modern", narrowed curriculum in place, students fall into the statistics of the aforementioned Gallop poll. This type of narrow education promotes a type of preparation for college/career and pushes the active and experiential learning down the road for the pupils. This fundamentally goes against the philosophy of John Dewey when he articulates that “Education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living”. Outdoor education is exactly what Dewey proposes, in that it is education through living, not in preparation for it.                                                                                                  
In more appropriate terms for a discussion of outdoor education, Dewey is proposing that the “trail” is the experience, not just the destination. Author, Robert Moor evokes much of this philosophy in his etymological book “On Trails” in which he argues that in our modern society of airplane travel and the zeitgeist of point-A to point-B, we lose sight of the process- our lives shouldn’t be a series of destinations, but  many intertwined trails in which we are continually immersed.

This is an apt  metaphor for our educational system as a whole (but crucially important at the middle-grades level). We are far too concerned with the tests and the destinations of learning and far less empathetic to students’ need to wander the trails. Education suffers from this lack of adventure and experience because it  emphasizes  results not the experience. In the words of John Quay of The University of Melbourne, “We need to have an emphasis on the outdoor education process rather than content”.

If one truly considers the possibilities of utilizing the outdoors as a pathway to learning- such as discussing the ecology of local watersheds through the procurement of sediment core-samples as a class, discussing the atomic arrangements of shale while observing rock formations, or discussing the words of Thoreau while wandering the trails of a local forest- it is seemingly apparent that learning can truly be augmented by the addition of the natural environment into classes.

Link To Annotated Bibliography

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Authenticity: One Key To Success

This post is from PLP Pathways contributor Maura Kelly, teacher at Peoples Academy Middle Level in
Morrisville, VT.

“Why do we have to do this?”
“Ugh...Reflections? Didn’t we reflect last week?”
“What is the point of this?

A few years ago, these would be common phrases heard in our teacher advisory when asking students to work on their PLPs. The challenge: we did not give students authentic, self-directed learning space within our schedule to work on their PLP and personal goals. We had 20 minutes, twice a week, dedicated to our social emotional curriculum and to having students set goals, reflect and put evidence on their portfolio sites. I can vividly recall the challenges that I would face week after week asking some of my students to reflect on personal goal progress and time after time, the student not having evidence to support or demonstrate their work toward that goal.
PLP work time was in place of student recess and it felt like there were always other school events competing for time and attention. One of the big challenges with our use of dedicated PLP time last year was that we were asking students to set personal and academic goals around the transferable skills, and then not providing, or honoring, a space and a framework for them to build these skills and accomplish their goals outside of the content areas. This created an unfair situation for our students by not providing necessary supports for students.  It made it especially difficult for students who were already struggling with self direction and those who lacked the involvement of parents to keep the student on track to meet goals outside of school.  

Old Schedule
New Schedule
8:00-9:20 Humanities
9:20-10:00 Literacy Intervention Block
10:00-10:20 Teacher Advisory
10:20-11:20 Science
11:20-12:20 Math
12:20-1:00 Lunch/Recess
1:00-2:00 Exposition (Unified Arts)
2:00-2:45 Expert class or Math Intervention (Teacher facilitated elective class)
8:00-8:20 Teacher Advisory Morning Meeting
8:20-8:45 Academic Time (small group intervention call back time)
8:45-9:40 Exposition (Unified Arts)
9:40-10:35 Humanities
10:35-11:30 Math
11:30-11:50 Recess
11:50-12:25 Literacy Intervention
12:25-12:50 Lunch
12:50-1:10 Humanities part 2
1:10-2:05 Science
2:05-2:45 Opportunity Time

Now, with our new flexible schedule, every student gets 45 minutes of self-directed, supported learning Opportunity Time every day. We have students participating in a wide range of activities including: taking online high school courses, developing choreography and teaching a dance class for younger students, and starting a Geography Bee.   
By providing students with intentional opportunities and experiences, as well as the support to collect evidence and reflect on growth, our PLP time has been transformed. Now, I have students who are most engaged in school at Opportunity Time, partnering with teachers, working on meaningful self-directed projects, feeling empowered, and providing evidence of achieving their personal goals.
We honor their time and although some students are on their 4th or 5th personal goal or project, we are giving time and space for them to truly personalize and take ownership of their learning. Now, when we reflect with students, we know that we have honored this authentic learning need and all students can reflect on their growth every week.
One student's evidence of working on their goal around drawing and shading during Opportunity Time with guidance from the Art teacher

As we have shifted to proficiency based learning, we have moved our practice to incorporate student's reflection on their learning progress before, during and after building the skills to meet the learning target in their class. We have been intentional about giving students time while learning to reflect and archiving their reflections on both Blogger and Schoology to capture their thinking and curate their work.
We use this as a way to get feedback from the students and also develop space for us to give feedback around the student’s growth towards the learning target. This renewed focus on reflection has become a critical part of the learning process. We also take time in class to have students put evidence of their learning on their portfolios and thereby capture the growth narrative growth behind the proficiencies.
Another focus on authenticity this year has been giving the portfolio an authentic audience. Just last week we had an upper house portfolio showcase where we had the whole upper house, all 7th and 8th grade students at Peoples Academy Middle Level, set up their portfolios and present to other members of our learning community. We had students receive feedback on their Opportunity Time projects and goals in an effort to help refocus the learning and to serve as a meaningful place to showcase their growth.
We also invited high school teachers and administrators to come and view the portfolios in order to start building relationships with our current 8th grade students, who, in a few short months, will be entering high school. We were able to utilize our flexibility within our schedule this year to support student preparation in three key areas. First, in preparation for for the portfolio showcase, students were provided the aforementioned Opportunity Time to gather evidence for their portfolio. Second, during teacher advisory time, students were able to receive feedback from advisory partners. Finally, academic time was utilized to support proficiency-based reflection writing.      
We have spent time this year sharing student portfolios within our team, but I am always reminded by students of the importance of sharing beyond our team. All of the students really focused and worked hard trying to get their portfolios ready knowing that our 5th - 8th grade students and teachers, as well as high school teachers, would be the authentic viewing audience bringing meaning and purpose to their work.  
Students viewing giving feedback at the portfolio showcase

Looking toward the end of the year we have been seeking additional authentic audiences for our students to share. In a few weeks we will have several students from all the Peoples Academy Middle Level teams join with middle level students from Stowe to collaborate on their portfolios. The hope is that we start a partnership between the students that we can carry over for multiple years, creating opportunities for them to work together in person, and also to collaborate digitally, fostering the collaborative spirit between both teachers and students within our supervisory union around the shifts in practice implementing Act 77.