A New Tool in the Shed

As I moved into the second semester, an opportunity presented itself in the form of another building block to my Google Classroom. The district that I work for has currently partnered with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to provide students with a Collection of resources including a print-based textbook via the classroom, an online textbook that includes a multitude of resources to assist in writing and reading, and now, a writing platform that promotes peer collaboration in the writing process.

Writable links to both my students online textbook resource as well as my Google Classroom. Writable provides students with the prompt, writing space, and online word processing tools of a traditional online document. It also provides a side-bar of guiding tips to help students focus their writing to the task and audience. The textbook is a click away in another tab or a swipe away if accessing from a tablet or mobile device. My students got their first practice with the tool while completing the performance task to a unit on Survival.

Previous to gaining access to Writable, my students had developed a draft of their essay on a Google Doc. The next assignment would be to retype their essay into Writable, revise as they go, and submit their essay to be reviewed, anonymously, by their peers. Being that my students had moved through the planning process and rough draft process at different speeds, I was able to provide direct instruction with students that requested support. My role shifted from instructing on what components are contained in a formal, argumentative essay to a real-time reviser and editor. It must be impressed that writing independently must be the focus of this exercise. By answering questions with questions, the student must use extended thinking skills to think through their questions using my questions to focus their stream of conscience. One-by-one students finish retyping their drafts into Writable.

Each student was then be required to read, analyze, and evaluate at least three of their peers essays. Writable software provides each student a rotation of their peers’ essays without revealing the author. Students in the review portion of the assignment could not edit the text; however, they are required to use a star-scale along with comments to assist their peer in revising the essay. Writable even goes the extra mile and provides students that score a category of their peer’s essay a one or two out of three stars a list of stems to comments to guide the feedback process. Once a student has finished reviewing three peer essays, they can view what their peers provided as far as feedback on their essay. Helpful hints are liked earning the reviewer Revision Points. Editors that take advice and make appropriate changes get Editor Points. Students become rewarded for positive digital citizenship through the act of honing revision skills. After students make their revisions, they submit their Final Draft by exporting their Writable Doc straight to the Google Classroom into a Google Doc.

There was immediate, evident buy-in from the students even within the first cycle of the revision process using Writable. Using Collections paired with Writable offers my classroom the opportunity to use digital tools to catalyze the learning process. Built in Collections assignments that can be dropped into my Google Classroom cut down on the time necessary to prepare for class which rewards itself by opening up more time to provide meaningful feedback to the students that engage in the assignment. I would like to thank Lisa Davis for getting my pilot of this program up and running, and I would like to thank Marla Banks for providing an excellent webinar that guided me through the programs features.

A New Era Deserves a New Education

There can be no denying the transition to a digital age in America. Over the past two decades, Americans have seen the birth and growth of the internet along with adaptations to technology aimed at inclusion of the “online experience” in all tools available to the average American. Americans have seen the introduction of “smart” phones, cars, refrigerators, watches, etc. If our culture continues to move forward into this digital age, then it seems appropriate that our schools do the same. The book Teaching in a Digital Age supports this idea, “Technology is leading to massive changes in the economy, in the way we communicate and relate to each other, and increasingly in the way we learn. Yet our educational institutions were built largely for another age, based around an industrial rather than a digital era” (Bates).  Creation of online and blended learning programs is the first step in achieving an education system that parallels the job market in the digital age. According to (Standards for Professional Learning), the creation of an online course must address all needs of a student’s learning process: knowledge and skill acquisition, reflection, refinement, assessment and evaluation. Educators must aim to achieve success in each part of the process as well as create an engaging atmosphere that inspires action.

The four learning theories; behaviorism, cognitivism, contructivism, and connectivism; must each be addressed in the learning process. If the argument that knowledge has evolved out from limitations of the past, it is fair to deduce that behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, and connectivism evolved out of each other. Therefore, it is imperative to include each learning theory in each student’s academic growth. The use of a LMS facilitates the learning process by allowing the opportunity to move through each step of the learning process at a personalized pace with guidance from their teacher. The use of a LMS will also provide the platform to create a learning community that uses collaboration to promote learning gains. In all online courses, educators must comprehend that they creating a learning community through the use of a virtual classroom/course (Morrison). Students will be able to view materials, complete assignments, collaborate with peers, gain insight and advice from their teacher, and create meaningful learning gains through the use of the LMS schoology when completing the course designed by myself. For more information on the development of my course please view EDLD 5318.

References

Bates, A.W. (2015) Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning (Chapters 1 & 2). Retrieved from https://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/

Morrison, D. (2013, May 7). Why Online Courses [Really] Need an Instructional Design Strategy. Retrieved from https://onlinelearninginsights.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/why-online-courses-really-need-an-instructional-design-strategy/

Standards for Professional Learning. (2015) Retrieved from https://learningforward.org/standards/learning-designs#.VzHxq2MWVlI

Let’s Bring Departments Together

A major reason for the lack of collaboration in my organization is the psychological separation between departments. Not only do departments section themselves off during faculty meetings, celebrations, PD, etc. they separate themselves by their content areas to the students. My goal is to role-model collaboration to the students by increasing collaboration between departments. Observation Games outlines my proposal to change the way bellwork is being observed at Heritage High School. I would like to change the amount of observations and the way observations take place. My experience with bellwork observations is as follows: an administrator arrives in your room unannounced, observes your bellwork exercise, and places the rubric in your mailbox with a few points circled and maybe a sentence of feedback. I aim to change this practice of  observation using the six sources of influence.

1) Personal motivation: Currently in our district, teachers may earn an infinite amount of compensatory time, but can only use 16 hours over the course of the year, 8 in the first semester and 8 in the second. For a teacher to observe a peer they must give up their valued planning period, so why should they not receive comp time for their efforts to collaborate with their peers? However, the ability to earn comp time does not translate into motivation to earn that time if you cannot use the hours you earn. Therefore, I move that teachers be allowed to use 16 hours of comp time a semester to motivate teachers to complete their observations and participate in the other various methods of earning comp time: chaperoning after-school functions, teacher-parent conference nights, etc.

2) Personal ability: Observations are of no use if they are not done properly. A teacher that views checked boxes of a vague and confusing rubric to receive feedback on their performance may hear the wrong message or feel they were observed unfairly or unjustly. Observations need to incorporate deliberate practice. Teachers should discuss what the observer will be observing in detail (this could happen face-to-face or through email), record meaningful feedback to give back to the observee, and feedback should be discussed between the two teachers and if possible an administrator/3rd party. Teachers will need to know what this practice looks like; therefore, it could be modeled during a pre-planning day or in-service day. Teachers will then have the proper skills to observe each other displayed for them.

3) Social Motivation: This proposal asks teachers to complete more work in an already busy school-year. There will no doubt be an enormous amount of resistance to the idea of more observations and observations of other department members. The way to combat this is to gain support from the teacher leaders within the school. These are not necessarily the department heads. Teachers that are respected within the school must be part of teaching observation skills, and the professional development sessions must include as many teachers as possible to reinforce skills taught and learned. Endorsement of observations by the teacher leaders wipes the dirt off what is an obvious way to better personal skill within the classroom.

4) Social Ability: This is where observation of different department members comes into play. I would argue social ability is the reason teachers stick to their own departments rather than the departments not getting along. It is much more comfortable to socialize with peers that have commonalities through content area, than trying to empathize with peers outside of your content area. Teachers that observe classes outside of their department will come face-to-face with the goings-on of the teachers in their school and build relationships between their peers through noticing similarities and differences that each content area poses. This strengthens the bonds between the teachers and promotes further collaboration.

5) Structural Motivation: Why will teachers want to perform proper observations if improper observations are accepted? My organization uses the professional development platform ProGoe to document peer and administrative observations. This allows the observer to simply check a few boxes, click submit, and move on to the next task. This is an efficient way to document the observations but not necessarily meaningful. While there is a place to write in feedback, I have noticed that many teachers “pride themselves” in accomplishing their observations as quick as possible; therefore, I’m assuming checking boxes is the most used practice. I propose a mandatory write-in piece of feedback for at least one aspect of each of the five dimensions included within the observation.

6) Structural Ability: If teachers are going to be mandated to give written feedback, then they better know how to give proper feedback. The collaboration that happens during the reading or listening of feedback by the observee is arguably the most crucial point of the observation. I, personally, was lost for a week or two after my principal threw me through a loop by giving me feedback for my lesson planning when he only saw the implementation of the plan. Teachers must be instructed on what proper feedback looks like and sounds like. Teachers must also be instructed on how to respond to feedback. This is something that I believe can be accomplished by demonstrations by the teacher leaders during a pre-planning day or in-service day. Teachers are tired of seeing the same PD slideshows every year anyways.

This is going to be a mountain of a hike to accomplish, but by arranging support in the right places and dedicated work it is attainable. Teachers will not easily see the obvious opportunity to better their practices and their peer practices. However, by using crucial moments to demonstrate proper skills and value of observations, teacher leaders to create a bandwagon, and speaking up against those that aim to devalue the change, schools will build a strong culture of inclusiveness and collaboration starting with the teachers and ending with the students.

The scope of Integrated Course Design combined with the Nitty Gritty of UbD

Both the Integrated Course Design and the Understanding by Design model use a backwards design that starts by identifying the end result and working back through the materials and activities used to achieve the end result. Each model provides the opportunity for educators to identify where they desire their students to be at the conclusion of a course/unit and a framework for how that conclusion will be reached. Like anything in life, it becomes clear through the use of these models, efficiency is accomplished by knowing where you want to end up before you start walking.

The difference I see in the Understanding by Design model and Dan Pink’s Integrated Course Design lies in the purpose of the model. Dan Pink’s model provides a larger scope that can be used to design an entire course. On the other hand, the Understanding by Design model provides a template that can be used to map out the details of one unit within the course. Instead of treating these two models as separate entities to choose from when designing, why not use both in an effort to provide students and parents the clearest outline for what will be accomplished within the school year. By using the Integrated Course Design model, teachers can introduce students to the “big picture” or BHAG that will be achieved throughout the entire year. Students are then guided through various units that are developed through the use of UbD. If done correctly, students will move through significant learning environments that are brought about through the necessity of nitty gritty detail in the UbD model. If the units are designed within the overlying goals of the Integrated Course Design, students will then connect daily and weekly achievements to their long term goals brought about through the larger scope of Integrated Course Design. The goal of using both models together is to demonstrate to students that short and long term goals must be set in an effort to progress through life. Students will build meaningful connections between tedious and detailed daily assignments and how those assignments come together to create comprehension of larger issues and concepts.