“Every student can learn, just not on the same day, or the same way.” By George Evans
With districts going back to school with distance learning or virtual learning in place, educators are wondering what they need to do to keep students engaged. Many of the same strategies educators engage students in a “regular” classroom should still be in place in a virtual classroom. Below are ways you can engage students in distance learning.
Mini-Lessons: Lessons should be engaging and also short, no more than 10 mins. Teachers need to think about teaching in shorter chunks and only one skill/standard at a time. For example, in Math if you are teaching subtraction, teach only one strategy at a time; allowing students to master it before going on.
Choice Boards, Playlists and/or Pathways: Having an instructional design is important for the students as it helps them understand expectations and procedures. The first few weeks should be spent on helping students understanding what the expectations are so they can take ownership of their learning. Having an instructional design will also help educators identify what standard they are needing support on from pre-assessments. Check out these resources if you want to incorporate these instructional designs into your classroom. How to create a Choice Board and Playlist Versus Pathway.
Discussions: Having students participating in academic discourses is a great way to engage learners. You can have whole group conversations but you get more engagement in small groups. In Zoom, creating small groups is easy to do as breakouts is an awesome feature when you are the host. If you are using Google Meets this becomes more difficult but still doable; you have to set up several meetings and provide links to each of the groups of students. In other learning management systems you can do discussions asynchronous thought discussion boards.
Brain Boosts: Also known as brain breaks, helps learners reduce stress and frustration and increase attention and productivity. I suggest after a mini-lesson having students do a brain boost like the ones on Go Noodle or make up your own as a way to transition into guided or independent practice; just like you would do in “regular” face to face classroom environment.
Goal Setting and Reflection: Goal setting is a great way to intrinsically motivate learners. Every Monday have students set learning goals in a goal journal for each subject so it becomes a weekly habit. You can easily make a goal journal using either a Google Doc template or create your own and then have students copy the template. Educators will need to model how to set goals for the students. Then at the end of the week, have the students reflect on their learning goals.
Choose Your Own Adventure Books: They are fun to read but even more fun when the students are creating their own and reading each others. You can easily create choose your own adventure books by using Google Slides and hyperlink the different slides. Having the students start with a story board to draft their ideas and thoughts before beginning helps the students be more productive. Check out this site for more information and examples of Choose Your Own Adventure.
HyperDocs: A HyperDoc is a digital document where all components of a learning cycle have been pulled together into one document. You can create interactive Hyperdocs on different topics or have students create their own to show what they know! Checkout this Facebook Hyperdoc group that shares a lot of ideas and resources.
Publish: When students know their work is going to be shared and viewed by others they become more engaged in the outcome. Have students share their screens or have them create their own Google site to be to create a portfolio of their finished projects etc.
Here are more resources about student engagement you might be interested in:
“Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.” By John C. Maxwell
Choice boards are graphic organizers that comprise of different amounts of squares and each square is an activity based on a standard. Choice Boards enhance student motivation and engagement in the classroom because students are provided with the “choice” of they want to practice a standard. Below are steps for how to create a choice board:
Step 1- Standards: Decide on what standard you want to create the choice board on. Example: 1.OA.1, 5.NF.1 or 7.EE.1
Step 2- Format: Decide what type of choice board you are going to make, ie how many squares are you going to have? One thing to think about is how long do you want this choice board to be for. For example if it is for one week, then I would pick 6 boxes so students can pick one box per day and still have a choice between two tasks on Friday.
Step 3- Tasks: Create a task (per square) that align to the standard. If you have taught this standard before, pull all the tasks you have done for that standard. Review the tasks to make sure that the tasks are both rigorous and relevant. If the tasks are keep them, if they are not, ask yourself; can I tweak the task to make it better? If so, make the tweaks to improve the task and if not throw the task out as there is no need to keep it.
Step 4- Build: Take all the tasks for that one standard you created and add them to the format that you choose.
Here are some examples of standards based choice boards:
“Most of the mistakes in thinking are inadequacies of perception rather than mistakes of logic.” By Edward de Bono
Playlist versus Pathway, that is the question I get asked most often. The answer it depends on what your students needs are and where educators are in their craft. To make it easier to determine which is right for you, lets define them first.
Playlist is tasks based on a particular standard or unit of progression of standards that are sequential. Students begin the playlists based on need from their pre-assessment data and work at their own pace.
Pathway is when students have choice of what tasks they want to complete based on a particular standard or unit of progression of standards. Students pathways are determined by their pre-assessment data. Students have voice in how they show mastery along with student led conferences before moving onto the next level within the pathway.
The second question I often hear is how do I create a playlist or a pathway. My recommendation is to backwards plan. Start with the end in mind of what mastery looks like for the standard you are creating the playlist or the pathway for. I also suggest pulling all the tasks you have for that standard that you have used in prior years to help create your playlist and/or pathway.
If you have a playlist or pathway you want to share with others, please add it to the comments.
“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.” By Steve Jobs
Personalized Learning IS NOT teachers being replaced by screens. Personalized Learning IS thoughtful and intentional incorporation of
Technology for teaching, learning, and student creation.
Technology is the accelerator for our classrooms today because it has opened the door to personalized learning on a broader scale. However, many school districts fall into the trap of adapting technology before understanding how they are going to use it or how it fits in with their vision of what they want their classrooms to look.
Proliferation of technology without direct and frequent connections to the overall vision can be harmful. In many cases, the strategic focus becomes the ratio of devices per student and frequency of use rather than growing the quality of the learning experience.
Teachers can be reluctant to bring devices into the classrooms as they worry about releasing control over, or being afraid of, not knowing how to use the tool. Here are some ideas to help reluctant teachers feel more comfortable:
Continually circle back to the definition of personalized learning to talk through how technology can accelerate learning and make learning more transparent so teachers see the value in it as a tool. This can also be done by emphasizing how a specific strategy can be done quicker with a tool, such as looking at data.
Model how technology can be used for student creation, evaluation, and revision versus being used to keep students busy. A mind-numbing worksheet is a mind-numbing worksheet whether it is on paper or on a software platform.
Send teachers to district or state technology conferences so they can see and hear ideas about how to use the technology from other educators.
“The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy.” by Meryl Streep
Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s thoughts and feelings from their point of view, rather than your own. An empathy map is a tool that I like to use with teachers to take a human-centered approach when thinking about personalizing students learning. Originally designed for businesses to think about their customers needs, schools are now using them to think about their students needs. Empathy maps shed light on which problems to solve within your school or classroom through a protocol.
The purpose of an empathy map activity is to empathize with end users, our students. When we better understanding how they think and feel, it will allow us to design classroom practices that work for them. You can create empathy maps several ways but my favorite way is to interview multiple students to gain perspective and truly hear their voice. Example questions for an interview would be:
What would make you excited to come to school?
Describe a class you feel most successful in and why.
How could all teachers help you feel successful?
Tell me about a time when you learned to do something really difficult? How did you learn it?
What would your ideal learning experience look like?
What change do you feel would make the biggest difference in your learning experiences? Why?
Then when I sit down to do an empathy map, I take a blank piece of paper, draw a circle in the middle and then section it off into the four sections below:
Said: What are things this student might say in your class?
Thought: What are things this student might be thinking while in your class?
Did: What are some things this student might be doing in the class?
Felt: How might this student feel?
Inside the middle circle I put the students name and then answer the above questions for said student using the data I gained from the interviews. If you don’t have time to do the interviews, that is ok too. You can then walk through this activity and think about what they would say, think etc- just know with this approach you can unintentionally add judgements.
Empathy Maps are a great way to disclose the underlying “why” behind students actions, choices and decisions so we can proactively design for their real needs; not based on what our needs as teachers are. After completing the empathy map activity you can now adjust an upcoming lesson, task, classroom environment etc to address students’ needed.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” By Helen Keller
If you are in education you have heard the term PLC which stands for Professional Learning Communities. Every school should have them as it’s a great way to help improvement teachers practices and increase student learning. Strong PLCs ensure equity of resources for students and redesign learning to accommodate the students needs.
PLC involves much more than a group of teachers getting together to discuss their lesson plans or data. Instead, a PLC should represent a focus on continuous improvement in staff performance as well as student outcomes. If teachers are working together in PLCs answering these questions then they are working towards a more Personalized Learning environment for their classrooms. According to Rick DuFour, the guru of PLCs, the four critical questions of a PLC include:
What do we want all students to know and be able to do?
How will we know if they learn it?
How will we respond when some students do not learn?
How will we extend the learning for students who are already proficient/shown mastery?
I would tweak these questions to provide support to help educators change their practices in the classroom and to promote more of a personalized instruction by bringing in the students responses along with a few more I added in green below:
For students during a PLC:
What do I want to know and be able to do?
What dispositions/soft skills will help me accomplish my goal?
How will I know if I learned it?
How will I demonstrated that I have mastered the skill/concept?
How will I respond when I do not understand the concept or am not learning it? What resources can I turn to?
How will I extend my learning?
Adding student responses into the PLC process starts transforming the agency and shifting practices from a PLC that is student centered to a PLC that is student driven. When PLCs come together to analyze their current reality and make changes to improve upon their practices with students voices at the table; they will not only increase student outcomes but also classroom culture and student motivation.
“When you listen with empathy to another person, you give that person psychological air.” by Stephen R. Covey
Developing Social Emotional Learning (SEL) skills within students is not only one of the most important ways that classrooms and schools can raise student achievement scores but the skills also prepare students for life. Here are my favorite ways to integrate social emotional learning into the classroom at any grade level:
Morning Check In: Greeting students at the door and gauging how they are entering can help reshape a students day. When you see a students demeanor different, you can have them step aside to find out whats wrong and how you can help turn their day around. This not only shows you care but also can allow for less disruptions in the classroom. For younger grades you can make a chart and have them tap the feeling that they are having. such as happy, sad, etc with pictures to help them recognize their feelings.
Read Alouds: Reading aloud stories that have social-emotional themes help student understand situations. Read aloud for the younger grades can be pictures books and for older grades can be chapter books.
Morning Meeting/Advisory Time: Holding morning meeting is a great way to start off the day and build classroom culture. Having SEL activities as part of morning meeting makes them even better. For older students, I usually call it advisor time. This time set aside empower all of your students with a voice and allows ownership of their learning environment.
“Student voice is the road to change.” By Russell Q
I often talk about how and why we should allow for more student voice in the classroom but lately I have been hearing so many misconceptions. I find the misconceptions mostly stem from thinking students responding in class is adding student voice. Student voice is not about students responding but about students making choices and sharing their ideas about their learning. Below are some of the misconceptions I have heard and ideas of how you can add students voice into the classroom:
Talking Sticks: Allowing students to answer questions by using “sticks” with their name on it does not allow for more student voice. It’s a great strategy to randomize calling on students to see how they will respond or for understanding. Instead….
For every ten minutes of content you deliver students need TIME to process and synthesize their learning. Have students turn and talk about what they learned.
Question Stems: Having questions stems is a great tool for supporting more in-depth conversations in the classrooms but that is not adding student voice. Instead…
Have students write reflections. This allows for students to work through their thoughts and emotions before sharing and allows their authentic voice.
Surveys: Giving students surveys is great. If you are only gathering student feedback that it is not allowing for student voice. Instead…
Use the survey data to take action and make changes. This will show students you are listening and value their voice and ideas.
Other ways to add student voice in the classroom is by having students:
goal set and reflect
led their conferences
debate on topics
choice on how to show mastery
Please share ways you have allowed more student voice in the classroom.
“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” By Coco Chanel
We know that effectively using student data to drive instruction for student learning is a best practice. We also know giving students ownership through empowering them to use their data is another best practice. So why are those same best practices not being applied to our adult learners?
Personalized Professional Learning is becoming a popular educational term but just like personalization for students it is a philosophy, it should be the way professional learning should be for todays educators. We need to be providing educators the autonomy to personalize their goals and use data that support their needs.
Over the past several years, I have modeled personalized professional learning for educators multiple ways to allows them to see what learning should look like in their classrooms as the same best practices apply.
Here are a few ways that educators can be empowered to use their data to drive their own learning:
Pre-assessment: Create a pre-assessment for educators to take so that you can meet them where they are in their learning journey based on their skill level. For example if I am providing a professional learning experience on “How to Implement Morning Meeting” the professional learning session should look different for those that have never heard what morning meeting is verse those that have been implementing it.
Self-Assessment: This is different then pre-assessment because this helps to gauge the learner of where they feel they are based on their comfort level verse skill level. For example I may provide a self-assessment that has multiple skills/topics on it and based on the data they can chose an area they would like to further explore.
Action Research: Allow learners to chose what they need to work on based on their interest. Provide them an action research template to help guide them and provide check points for feedback and support.
Interested in more of my thoughts on professional learning? Check out some of my previous blog posts.
“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” By Jim Rohn
One of my goals on my professional bucket list was to be published; I am excited to say I have accomplished this goal! I would love for you to download, How to Leverage Personalized Learning in the Classroom, my new FREE book co-written with Allison Zmuda. We dig into what personalized learning is and isn’t and how you can implement this philosophy into the classroom, school and district level.
I would love to here your comments, thoughts, questions and feedback! Please message me or add them into the comment section below.