Thursday, February 22, 2018

Lesson Revamps for High Agency Learning

Recently Eric Sheninger posted the following graphic as part of a blog post about taking a critical lens to instructional design:
I've been thinking about the above concepts on a regular basis as our teachers are going through the process of creating units in our learning management system, Canvas. I believe there are certain times that just lend themselves to reflection, revamping and reorganization such as:
  • When a lesson plan flops
  • When curriculum mapping is being updated
  • When a learning management system (LMS) is an option
  • When you have a vision for a lesson plan that could use a little ummph
  • When you start wondering if there is a better way to....(fill in the blank)
So what do the above high agency options look like?
  1. "Facilitate" learning - you were probably both taught from a "sage on the stage" model of learning and if you are my age you also were probably taught to teach that way as well.
    While there are definitely times that lectures work, high agency education moves the teacher from the giver of all knowledge to the facilitator of the learning happening in the classroom. In the age of digital learning, the teacher can have options for students to learn more on a topic- for instance: access to primary source documents or video conferencing with subject matter experts.
  2. Student-centered - Does the learning happen based on the teacher's actions, steps, words, timing? Or does the student have access and the ability to be in charge of parts or all of their learning? Do students have voice and choice in the things they are learning or sharing? Student-centered activities lead to engagement. 
  3. Learning anytime/anywhere - Most teachers balk at this concept. "I don't teach an online course!" but do your students have to be sitting in front of you for learning to happen? Are you utilizing tools like a learning management system that allow students to use their time well? If seat time was not an issue, could your students access you when they needed more details or direction but basically could move forward with learning even if a sub was there for weeks? What if they are sitting in your classroom? Are there ways you could utilize an LMS that would allow you to have more one-on-one planning, mapping, and teaching happening with EACH student (or small groups of students)?
  4. Personalized, differentiated - Are you meeting the needs of ALL your students? For hundreds of years educators have taught to the norm. Those that caught on quicker were bored out of their minds and those that caught on slower felt like a failure. Technology can allow students to have different outcome paths. In Canvas, our LMS at CCS, we have a math classroom that uses mastery paths. Students cannot move on until they are "ready" but they can move ahead at a faster rate as well. Personalization and differentiation is tricky in a traditional school structure but it can be possible and is definitely beneficial to ALL students. One of my favorite, easy to implement option for this is software that adapts to the student learning in the process. For instance, if a student doesn't do well on a math problem then an easier problem is given to allow for scaffolding that student back to the level of understanding needed. Also, algorithm based software that assigns the next "to do" objectives to students meet those students where they are and take them to their potential.
  5. Do to learn - Parents often question the time it takes for homework and have a hard time seeing the validity and purpose, and so do I. What is the purpose of "doing?" Or your students doing to learn or just going through the motions of doing? It is our job to spark learning and a desire to learn. Are your students good at following instructions and jumping through hoops (for example: do the odd problems 1-17) or our your students doing it to learn- are grades associated with the learning process? In other words, are your formative assessments given to formulate feedback in order to know what students know or is it another grade in the grade book because you need more grades? If students have the freedom to fail and learn from the process with feedback then they don't fear the process. Think about the freedom you have while playing a video game. Students don't get upset when they "lose a life" or have to start over, they click play and go again because they realize the way to learn how to do it is to keep doing it. Unlike the culture of school, there is no repercussions to getting it wrong. Can we as educators learn from this concept?
  6. Application focused - Look for ways to teach your curriculum authentically. Project based learning lends itself to giving students the concept of WHY.  Apply the learning to real life. For instance, in our lower school STEAM program when our fifth graders are learning about structure and function, I plan to connect the concept of their drinking straw made projects to a video of a local architect explaining who he is, what he does, and how what they are learning relates to his job. Application focus gives meaning and while it might be quite obvious to us what the application is, it might not be to a student. Share the why and make the learning applied when you can.
  7. Develop Thinking - Make learning more about the process than the end result. We tend to focus on a summative tests as our end result but the process of learning and learning how to learn is a beautiful thing. Be intentional in helping students get to the end result, not just being able to answer multiple choice questions correctly because they are a good memorizer. We are currently going through a whole school design thinking process in our lower school. To teach students how to critically look at challenges through the eyes of empathy, to then ideate those concepts, storyboard your process, and come to a conclusion or prototype can be a skill that has the ability to be applied to all learning processes. Teach your students how to think. 
  8. Integrating curriculum - Segmented curriculum often feels intimidating. By integrating curriculum into a project or problem to solve changes biases. Students that use to walk into math class saying "I'm not good at math" may feel less angst when it is integrated with a subject they do like. Integration focuses on relevance for students and directly correlates to the application focused discussion above. Integrating curriculum isn't always easy, especially in the middle and high school grades but when done well, there is an embedded connection that naturally happens that spurs the learner forward. Think about it, all day long a student goes from Subject A to Subject B, etc that have high level of learning taking place but no connection whatsoever...between each class they have 3-10 minutes to decompress and get ready for the next stand alone idea. What if their day was more fluid? Connected learning seems more manageable from the student perspective. 
  9. Active learning opportunities - "Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime." - Chinese Proverb. Take a look at Edgar Dale's Cone of Experience: 
    Look at your mode of instruction, how often is active learning happening with your students? How often could it happen with some adjustments? Active and interactive opportunities support all the above high agency learning concepts. It can get loud and messy but often the level of engagement in the learning process becomes organic and freeing for the learners.








Nothing mentioned above is meant to say "you're doing this wrong." It's more just a challenge to us all to look deeper at the way we teach and consider alternatives to the process. How can you get all your students involved in the learning? Not just the same 5 that always raise their hands. We default to what feels easiest, it's human nature. But what if we took a moment to be a learner in this school year and challenge ourselves with learning based on the above? What if we changed our perspective towards what works best for our learners instead of what works best for us? We might find that some of these ideas fail miserably for us, but even when we fail, we learn...remember the video game idea?