Student-Centered Learning Experiences

Student-centered learning experience

I want my students to work collaboratively together on a project and get the benefits of common knowledge, process and critical thinking
  • Use collaborative Google Apps for Education tools (Drive, Docs, Slides, Sheets, Drawings) where every group member can work on the project at the same time
  • Use collaborative technology tools where multiple students can access:  Prezi, ThingLink, Padlet, EduBlogs, Wikispaces, LMS Digital Portfolio, Shared albums in Google Photos
  • Use online discussion forums (Edmodo, Canvas) to extend discussions beyond the class period
  • Host a backchannel chat during Socratic Seminar using Today’s Meet
  • Brainstorm ideas and post to digital bulletin boards (Padlet, Linoit, Dotstorming)
  • Hold asynchronous debates by recording opening arguments & rebuttals using video webcam
  • Use polling software (Socrative, Poll Everywhere, Google Forms) for surveys, opinions, voting, or polls. Collectively analyze data in Google Sheets and graph results
  • Use commenting on Google docs during the peer review process.
  • Use project management software (flow charts, brainstorm maps, graphic organizers, etc)
I want my students to have an authentic audience for their learning or to “do the real work of the discipline”
  • Have students blog and/or podcast about what they are learning in class for a real audience using EduBlogs or AudioBoom.
  • Find online collaborative projects with another class, global partners or other IB schools.
  • Bring in, record or Skype with experts in your field or host webinar using Google+ Hangouts.
  • Research real issues, participate in community projects then present solutions or steps to solve problems.
  • Design newspapers, presentations, PSA’s, a marketing plan or creative displays for organizations, business or outside groups
  • Submit writing to teen websites, publish books, eBooks or websites
  • Build 3-D models or simulations that others will use; Apply math concepts to real world problems
  • Participate in online challenges (EconChallenge, Global Math Challenge, Google Science Fair, etc.)
  • Collect real data & create graphs; analyze statistics or polling data & make inferences; present research to panel
  • Access Library of Congress source material, statistical data from Gov’t or NASA, explore research in electronic databases
I want to give students more ownership or choice in their learning and create a performance task instead of a traditional written paper or test.
  • Provide options for how students can demonstrate their understanding by offering a variety of performance tasks:  Video project, newscast, online simulations, research & role play, design, build & create, digital art projects, interactive posters, Infographics, multimedia presentations, digitally record a written narration, place-based content embedded on map, build a class website, drama
  • Have students “teach” classmates by making “Khan Academy” style videos, Create online how-to guides using, start a YouTube channel
  • Create time for “Genius Hour” or passion-based research projects; showcase projects at Learning Fair.
  • Allow for self-selected print reading material, eBooks or Audiobooks

Role of Teacher Librarian and literacy

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Literacies as defined by Loertscher (2008), are the skills necessary to function successfully in school and the world at large as a “literate” citizen.  Literacy skills are lifelong learning skills that include reading, writing, listening, communicating, media literacy, visual literacy, information literacy, ICT literacy, and emerging literacies (124).

The primary role of the teacher librarian in a school’s literacy program is one of advocate and collaborator.  First and foremost, the teacher librarian must know their library collection and understand how it supports the school’s curriculum.  The print and electronic resources in a library are dynamic – always changing and growing to support the learning of the student community.  The teacher librarian is not only passionate about reading and writing, but involving students in all kinds of activities, such as listening to novels on CD, using collaborative technology tools to support group work, and using databases for research and evaluation.  They must be knowledgeable about all types of resources and be the “go to” person in the school who keeps up on current research, who takes the time to learn about and practice emerging technologies, and who collaborates and encourages teachers to try new strategies – especially when it comes to information literacy.

The teacher librarian should be part of curriculum teams.  Because they work with a variety of classroom teachers and with a variety of subject areas, they are in a good position to share best practices and strategies that have been proven effective.  They are they to support, offer advice, and be positive and encouraging of those who are trying new strategies.  They should always been on the lookout for new resources and take time to share what they’ve discovered with their community.  Teacher librarians are the ultimate coach – co-teaching the necessary skills to be successful – and directing and encouraging from the sidelines.

The teacher librarian can have a significant role in content reading skills.  Especially at the higher grade levels, content reading can be quite challenging for some students.  There is a huge jump in the readability of the material and it may contain a lot of technical and unfamiliar terminology.  A teacher librarian who is familiar with content reading strategies can assist classroom teachers in suggesting effective strategies so students have better comprehension of both print and electronic resources.

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When planning a collaborative Social Studies assignment, the teacher librarian can suggest note taking strategies.  The Cornell note taking system encourages students to take notes while reading a selection from text sources or listening to a lecture and or watching a historical movie.  Students take notes on one side of the paper.  On one side of the page, the student writes “cues” – which are questions which the notes answer.  The page summary at the bottom of the notes provides a concise review of the important material on the page.  This activity reinforces many informational literacy skills and assists the students in understanding the “bigger picture” that is being presented.

Too often in Social Studies, students don’t see the connections from one event to another or they get confused by all the names and dates that are presented.  Encouraging use of a concept map or graphic organizer allows students to “show” the connections and gives them a visual representation of events, people and dates.  The teacher librarian can also provide background reading material that helps make sense of the social studies content.  They can suggest fiction books about the time period being studied.  They can provide access to multimedia collections in databases.  They can encourage individual exploration of interesting websites or DVDs.  Surrounding the students will all types of resources makes understanding social studies content reading much more manageable.

Loertscher, D., Koechlin, C., & Zwaan, S. (2008). The New Learning Commons Where Learners Win!: Reinventing School Libraries and Computer Labs. Salt Lake City, UT: Hi Willow Research

Using a variety of (non-tech) instructional strategies

I attended an informal professional development session shared by one of our teachers at school yesterday on differentiated instruction.  The session was informative and thought provoking.  We all need to be reminded of ways we can best support the learning of our students.

Recap of my biggest take-aways:

  • Fair isn’t always equal – meaning you don’t need to have a cookie cutter approach to grading and evaluation of your students.
  • Differentiated instruction supports flexibility in the way you teach, the way your students demonstrate their understanding and the way your assess their understanding.
  • Create a student-centered classroom – get away from lecture-test-hope for the best
  • This type of instruction increases student engagement and learning
  • Can be difficult to implement – takes time to plan out activities to meet objectives & classroom management can be an issue too.
  • Teachers expressed a desire to gather together in small groups to share ideas of how to best meet the learning challenges of certain students (ie, after a round table meeting).

The teacher gave us a handout of a list of instructional strategies and methods.  This was very helpful for me to review and see how I can improve my teaching.  

A Listing of Instructional Strategies and Methods

Direct Instruction

Interactive Instruction

Indirect Instruction

Independent Study

Experiential Learning

Instructional Skills

Reflecting about my own learning

Last Saturday during a two hour drive,  my husband and I had a great discussion about learning, failure and success.  We were discussing people’s attitude towards problems in your work environment and failure in general.  Some folks are crushed by failure, beat themselves up, or try to do everything to avoid acknowledging that things didn’t quite go as planned.  Other folks have an easier time brushing themselves off, looking for lessons learned and bouncing back.

We each identified our own attitudes and behaviors.  It was an interesting discussion about fear of failure, what motivates us to finally act after procrastination and our willingness to be transparent with our shortcomings.

Argg ... NCCE pirate themeDuring the drive home later that evening, I finally had a chance to reflect about my experience presenting at NCCE.  My mind wandered through the events of the conference in the quiet of the night.  While I absolutely loved meeting and connecting with the educators in my Personal Learning Network, my mind drifted to my own presentations and I found myself evaluating my “performance” –  what I wished I had said or not said and what I covered.

It’s easy at this point to beat yourself up.  It’s nerve-wracking standing up front of 60+ educators and put yourself out there.  Two of the three presentations were new for me this year and I wanted them to go well.   Questions like, “Did I explain myself clearly” and “Did attendees learn anything new” or “Did I cover the material well” swam through my head.

For the most part I do not beat myself up if everything doesn’t go perfectly.  I tell myself that if I had at least taught some folks to do something new or try a new way of looking at technology tools, or inspired them to learn more — then I did what I set out to accomplish.

Both Jeff Utecht and Richard Kassissieh blogged about the lack of conference sessions that focused on teaching and learning and too much focus on tools.  Richard wrote:

Excessive focus on the technology itself in the absence of an intentional learning environment reinforces unhelpful stereotypes about technologists and technology. 1) You can improve education just by adding technology; 2) Technologists aren’t interested in teaching and learning. Most of the conference attendees are teachers. Let’s upset the usual stereotypes and return to what matters.

Other discussions I had with members of my PLN also centered around how we could make this conference better and help technology-loving educators connect with one another.  I reflected on my experience of teaching the tools vs. focusing on the pedagogy.  How did I do?

I want to see “problems” as learning opportunities — not failure.  I want to be able to review my experiences and be proud of what I accomplished but at the same time be willing to correct mistakes next time — not see them as failures — but just as opportunities to try something else.  It’s called learning.  Realizing it’s not the outcome you wanted and try again.

Jeff ustreamed my Google Apps for Education presentation and I watched the archived video – and I did cringe a few time when reviewing, but for the most part was happy with the presentation.  Watching yourself is great for learning – as long as you can keep the focus positive.

So after a few days to think about my experience and what I “learned” , I noted a few things down.

  • Focus on student learning first and then how the technology tool can improve, help, or encourage learning.
  • Encourage discussion and conversation among the educators in smaller groups, backchannel or discussion board/questions.  Each person needs a chance to reflect, ask questions, and discuss for the idea to be “sticky”.
  • Be clear about your objective at the beginning of the presentation and the skill level  you are covering and stick to it.
  • For hands on workshops, have the participants create authentic material and not just “practice” the skill.
  • Have resource material available but don’t feel like you have to cover everything (especially 1 hr concurrent sessions).
  • Skip the “how I got here” intro and jump right into the presentation.
  • Constantly tweak your Powerpoint presentations (note:  I’m ready to start over on this one!)
  • It’s OK to be nervous – just breath deep — get in touch with  your passion inside – it will help you relax.

What have you learned about yourself lately?

Focus on learning & use tools effectively

Jen at @injenuity shared her concerns in a post entitled, “Web 2.0 is Not the Future of Education”. She states that early tech adopters are focusing on integrating new tools in their teaching instead of focusing on LEARNING. She writes:

“Learning is the future of education. Students need to develop an awareness of how they learn. By student, I mean every human being with whom we come in contact… All people deserve the right to understand how learning happens and the power they have to control their own lifelong learning journey.

Why are we hording these technology tools like some kind of magic trick that can only be performed for those worthy enough to earn our approval? We must embrace a more holistic approach to teaching and learning…

I really just want people to start to build their foundational values as educators, without ‘Web 2.0? as part of those values. The tools can enable engagement, transfer of learning and collaboration and can open the world to the student. Please see the student before the tools and give them the power they need in order to be successful with them.”

As a technology teacher who has transformed her computer classes from skill-based to LEARNING based – I whole heartedly agree with Jen. Its easy to get caught up in the lastest gadget or software tool. I feel my goal is to teach students how to learn.

I think part of this excitement depends on your basic personality. I am a learner. I love learning new things. It excites me and motivates me.

Other people are more cautious. They question the need for change. Change makes them uncomfortable and are slow to adopt.

Is there anything wrong with either one of these approaches? No. They each have their advantages and disadvantages.

But in the classroom our focus MUST be on engaging students as learners. Technology does provide opportunities for students to connect and be creative in ways that are unique and tranformative. But it takes a passionate and educated teacher to know the best way to do that.

I admit that I am guilty of rushing to incorporate a new tool into my classroom and found the experience to be lackluster. Usually it is because I haven’t taken the time to determine how using this piece of software will best meet my instructional goals and demonstrate student understanding.

When I first heard about VoiceThread I immediately saw it’s potential to engage students and give them a voice. But without careful planning, my student’s first attempts were more like narrated powerpoints with a few audio comments that said “Good Job”.

I didn’t give up, though. My frustration with the results made me dig deeper and ask myself what is the unique power of this tool that I can’t recreate in person.

My students love to discuss and debate – but it seems that the only ones who speak up are those with outgoing personalities.

VoiceThread gives each student an opportunity to plan and share their idea or point of view in the medium they are most comfortable in – text, audio or video. The collaborative nature of VoiceThread also allows students to respond back in a way that is appropriate and safe. Eric Brunsell commented, “VoiceThread, just like PowerPoint, is pointless if students are not crafting an argument, creating art (visual, aural or written), somehow communicating authentic thinking.”

Whenever I assign a project, I like to give my students a choice on how they will present the information (video, blog, PowerPoint, VoiceThread, etc..). Students can now choose a tool that fits their personality and learning style and the focus is on the message and not the tool.

Last year I blogged about this concept of focusing on student learning:

Student-centered learning means that the focus is on the learner – not the teacher and how the material is presented. The emphasis is on how the student is learning, the choices they have for expressing their learning, and how the teacher comes to understand that the student is learning.

But at the same time, I also teach these students HOW to use the tools effectively so the project doesn’t become about the flashiness of PowerPoint or the coolness of video.

We need to do both.

Michele Martin’s comment on Jen’s entry summed it up, “It’s about using technology along with the right thinking and collaborative processes.”

Achieving your dreams: Lessons from Randy Pausch

Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch, who is dying from pancreatic cancer, gave his last lecture at the university on Sept. 18, 2007. In his moving talk, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” Pausch talked about his lessons learned and gave advice to students on how to achieve their own career and personal goals (View entire speech on YouTube).

Here are some of my notes from watching the video (pdf of speech transcript).

All right, so what is today’s talk about then? It’s about my childhood dreams and how I have achieved them. I’ve been very fortunate that way. How I believe I’ve been able to enable the dreams of others, and to some degree, lessons learned. I’m a professor, there should be some lessons learned and how you can use the stuff you hear today to achieve your dreams or enable the dreams of others. And as you get older, you may find that “enabling the dreams of others” thing is even more fun.

Lessons from reaching his childhood dreams:

  • When you are 8 or 9 years old and you look at the TV set, men are landing on the moon, anything’s possible. And that’s something we should not lose sight of, is that the inspiration and the permission to dream is huge.
  • Have something to bring to the table, right, because that will make you more welcome.
  • You’ve got to get the fundamentals down because otherwise the fancy stuff isn’t going to work.
  • When you see yourself doing something badly and nobody’s bothering to tell you anymore, that’s a very bad place to be. Your critics are your ones telling you they still love you and care.
  • Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.
  • Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.
  • Wait long enough and people will surprise and impress you.

How can I enable the childhood dreams of others.

  • Go back into class tomorrow and you look them in the eye and you say, “Guys, that was pretty good, but I know you can do better.” And that was exactly the right advice. Because what he said was, you obviously don’t know where the bar should be, and you’re only going to do them a disservice by putting it anywhere.
  • I think that that’s one of the best things you can give somebody – the chance to show them what it feels like to make other people get excited and happy.
  • When you’ve had something [a class] for ten years that you hold so precious, it’s the toughest thing in the world to hand it over. And the only advice I can give you is, find somebody better than you to hand it to.
  • That is the best gift an educator can give is to get somebody to become self reflective.
  • The best way to teach somebody something is to have them think they’re learning something else.
  • Alice Programming Software – Millions of kids having fun while learning something hard.

Lessons learned:

  • The Last LectureGo get a Ph.D. Become a professor. And I said, why? And he said, because you’re such a good salesman that any company that gets you is going to use you as a salesman. And you might as well be selling something worthwhile like education.
  • I mean I don’t know how to not have fun. I’m dying and I’m having fun. And I’m going to keep having fun every day I have left. Because there’s no other way to play it.
  • “Decide if you’re Tigger or Eeyore”
  • Never lose the childlike wonder. It’s just too important. It’s what drives us.
  • Help others.
  • Loyalty is a two way street.
  • Never give up.
  • You get people to help you by telling the truth. Being earnest.
  • Apologize when you screw up and focus on other people, not on yourself.
  • Remember brick walls let us show our dedication. They are there to separate us from the people who don’t really want to achieve their childhood dreams. Don’t bail.
  • The best of the gold’s at the bottom of barrels of crap.
  • When you do the right thing, good stuff has a way of happening.
  • When people give you feedback, cherish it and use it.
  • Show gratitude.
  • Don’t complain. Just work harder.
  • Be good at something, it makes you valuable.
  • Work hard.
  • Find the best in everybody. One of the things that Jon Snoddy as I said told me, is that you might have to wait a long time, sometimes years, but people will show you their good side. Just keep waiting no matter how long it takes. No one is all evil. Everybody has a good side, just keep waiting, it will come out.
  • And be prepared. Luck is truly where preparation meets opportunity.
  • If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you.

Randy’s speech is quite powerful. I especially appreciate his sense of truth, perseverance and determination. At one point in the speech he describes the learning environment he has created with his students. Randy states:

“The keys to success were that Carnegie Mellon gave us the reins… We were given explicit license to break the mold. It was all project based. It was intense, it was fun, and we took field trips! So we did things very, very differently. The kind of projects students would do, we did a lot of what we’d call edutainment.”

How exciting. What an environment to work in! Randy was instrumental in the development of Alice. Alice is an innovative 3D programming environment that makes it easy to create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web. Alice is a teaching tool for introductory computing. Kids are learning to program but they just think they’re making movies and video games. It has already been downloaded well over a million times. There are eight textbooks that have been written about it and according to Pausch, ten percent of U.S. colleges are using it now. Pausch exclaims, “Millions of kids having fun while learning something hard.

That reminds me of the motto during OMET program at Pepperdine: “hard fun”. We spent our first week in the program at VirtCamp, kind of a grown-up version of tech camp – programming pirate legos and having “harrrrrrd fun”.

Gary Stager, one of my professors at Pepperdine university would assign us “learning adventures” instead of assignments. I never worked so hard at having fun and learning. But you know what, I loved it and it challenged me to try things I never would have experienced.

Randy’s speech makes me think of what lessons I have learned in life. I will have to reflect on that and share my reflections in another post. Meanwhile, I have a whole lot of dreaming to do.

In the words of Randy Pausch, “If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you.”

Learning and assessment

One of my favorite parts about being connected in the edtech blogosphere is that bloggers freely share their professional development ideas and course goals. I was intrigued when Dean Shareski discussed his practices and his goal for his online students was to experience:

  • Learning is social and connected
  • Learning is personal and self-directed
  • Learning is shared and transparent
  • Learning is rich in content and diversity

He went on to explain how difficult it is to assess and grade these ideas. They don’t fit nicely into an A-F format. Evidence of his student’s learning was demonstrated in their blog posts, weekly assignments and synchronous sessions.

Even though I don’t teach a completely online class, I want to see if I can embrace these type of goals in my high school computer classes this year. I pulled out my Understanding by Design book to review how I could incorporate this type of goal for my classes. Some questions stood out for me:

  1. What would count as evidence of such achievement?
  2. What does it look like to meet these goals?
  3. What are the implied performances that should make up the assessment, toward which all teaching and learning should point?

Another way to say it is “What should the students walk out the door able to understand, regardless of what activites or text we use?” and “What is evendence of such ability” and, therefore, “What texts, activities and methods will best enable such a result?”

I love struggling with these big picture ideas. It helps me to take some time and mull them around for a bit because my tendancy is to jump right in and say … “oh, we’ll use wikispaces for a collaborative document, and we’ll create blogs with 21 Classes, and then we’ll set up a shared bookmark on …” all before I really know WHY I want to do all those things. My instincts are on the right track but I want to be deliberate with my goals and objectives and make sure the students know WHY they are doing it too!

A great design tip from UbD is to ask a student: What are you doing? Why are you being asked to do it? What will it help you do? How does it fit with what you have previously done? How will you show that you have learned it?

The whole idea behind UbD is to plan using backwards design. First identify your desired results. Then determine acceptable evidence. Then finally plan learning experiences and instruction.

Dean also shares that they have seven principles to guide assessment practices in his school division:

1. Students are the key assessment users.

2. A balance of assessment for and of learning should be used.

3. Assessment should be constructive; it should focus on achievement and progress.

4. Assessment and instruction are interdependent.

5. Good quality assessments must be followed by effective communication.

6. Assessment expectations and curricular outcomes should be communicated clearly to students from the beginning.

7. Meaningful and appropriate assessments should include evidence about student achievement in the areas of content, process and product.

This is good stuff!

I started poking around his division website and found another nugget. I C E – ICE is a framework for assessing learning growth. The framework helps to clarify the characterisitics and markers that indicate where learners are along the learning continuum and, in so doing, enables teachers to make instructional decisions that maximize learning. It’s a simple assessment tool that I can use to evaluate my student’s blogs and other understandings.  Thanks Dean!


  • basic facts
  • vocabulary
  • details
  • concepts
  • the “foundational” stuff


  • Demonstrate connection amoung the basic concepts
  • Demonstrate connection between what was learned and what they already know


  • Students use their learning in new ways
  • Students are able to answer the question: So, what does this mean? How does this shape my view of the world?

Exerpt from Assessment & Learning: the ICE Approach (2000) Sue Fostaty Young and Robert J. Wilson

Character traits of the future (and now)!

In the “Future of Learning Agents” workshop that Steve Hargadon (and Will Richardson) attended earlier this week, Steve reports about how learning will look in the future. As I looked over his notes, the following statement jumped out at me:

“That the character traits of self-learning, self-motivation, and self-determination–in a world of increasing choices and niches–will become key end-goals for mentors working with learners.”


Yes. This is my goal as a high school computer teacher. In the short seven years that I have been a technology educator I have come to realize that this is my primary goal – to create an atmosphere where kids learn how to learn.

Because everyone knows that the technology is going to change so WHY spend all of your instructional time teaching to a specific piece of software. I know why … because that is what educational software/textbook companies offer. A nice clear-cut “cookie” curriculum where you can “teach” specific skills over the course of a term. I know. I did it my first few years. But then I noticed something. Kids were learning specific tech skills but then couldn’t take that information and transfer to another project or another class.

So … I started creating “projects” so my students could “practice” the skills. And they did. And they enjoyed creating their own work but still too often I had to remind them to “take the project seriously. This is a school assignment – not entertainment”. That should have tipped me off right there. But (I thought to myself) I had this textbook and there were so many skills to “cover”. So I plowed ahead.
I admit it. It’s A LOT easier just to follow a pre-scribed textbook curriculum day after day. But … the problem was that my students were too dependent on asking me how to do things. They were absorbing (some) information — but were they learning? I knew things weren’t quite right and I did TRY to tweak things and bring new things into my curriculum but I struggled. I knew I needed a major overhaul – but was I up for it?

Were they learning? Those words haunted me. What I began to focus on was HOW were the kids learning. Were they dependent on me for all the answers? Were they trying to figure things out for themselves? Were they more concerned about “just getting it done” or “getting an A” than really absorbing and applying what they knew? Were they motivated to learn new things.

A lot of the research I started reading stated that separate computer classes that focus on skills do not work. What was needed what to integrate the technology into the regular curriculum. I had known this all along and had tried to help my fellow HS teachers to do that – but what about my beginning computer applications course? Was it even working?

I know my classes weren’t completely bad. Students had reported that “they learned so much” and seemed interested enough. But I knew that wasn’t enough for me.

I wanted students to be excited about learning new tech skills. I wanted to see that eagerness to share what was just learned with a friend. I wanted to give students choices about what they learned. I wanted to see engagement in the learning process – not just focusing on “getting it done”. I wanted my students to have REAL experiences that meant something!

So, I started from scratch. The book Understanding by Design helped me immensely. I began to see the bigger picture. I started handing over the control of learning to my students. I created opportunties to learn instead of “assignments”. I encouraged students to colloborate. We uncovered reasons to use technology. We collected data, analyzed it and then asked ourselves “what does it mean?” We shared our discoveries. We had an audience and we realized that others appreciated our technology skills so they could discover and learn. I saw students learning from each other and relying on resources other than myself. I began to feel like we were doing something real The road of the futureand important.

Am I 100% there yet? Heck, no. I don’t think I ever will be “there”. But I do know that my focus is different now.

I look to the future and ask myself, “what do these kids need to know” and in my own little world – I try to provide a place where they can test their ideas and maybe sometimes fail .. but that’s ok … we are all learning together.


This is the road that we will follow this year.

Photo credit:

Instructional scaffolding

In his article about Instructional scaffolding, Konrad Glogowski describes a educational scenario how Web 2.0 tools support learning:

Let’s say that the student has chosen a specific aspect of the broader topic of social justice and is in the process of collecting information and resources. In today’s world of the world wide web and information overload, the student can begin to feel lost amid all the information. This presents the teacher with a perfect opportunity to introduce RSS, for example, or a tool that can be used to aggregate video clips, such as VodPod or a YouTube account. It also presents a perfect opportunity to work with the student on specific curriculum related skills, such as summarizing. This can also be a fantastic opportunity to help the student start a research journal (on her blog, using a account, or a tumble log) or use mindmapping to develop a plan for further research. The point here is that once the student feels stuck, overwhelmed, or discouraged, a perfect opportunity presents itself for the teacher (or a more knowledgeable peer) to step in and offer support.

Glogowski quotes Judith A. Langer who argues “that in order to use instructional scaffolding teachers need to ensure that the students have ownership of the learning event”. Glogowski goes on to say that “once the student is engaged as a researcher/writer/thinker, the teacher can focus on conversing with the student.”

Researcher/writer/thinker. Do we view our students like that? Do we give our students the respect to initiate, plan and developing their own learning and thinking? Do we see our ourselves as “co-participants” in our student’s research or are we waiting for the final product to be finished so we can “evaluate” it.

This mind shift is critical if we are to embrace a learner-centered environment. But Glogowski also makes a second point:

The sense of partnership that developed through the initial set of instructional conversations needs to evolve in order to be of benefit to the student. Since I now know (I have seen) that my student has made progress, I need to use different tools and engage in different conversations in order to ensure that the student does not see my involvement as patronizing or intrusive. The set of competencies that developed as a result of our instructional conversations now demands that our conversations increase in sophistication.

Our responsibilites and the tools we use change as our students grow and learn. As educators we cannot sit by passively and wait for our students “to get it”. We need to constantly adapt, challenge and find new ways to engage them in the conversation so they are involved in the process. Glogowski states that “blogging in a supportive community of peers …allows for the development of higher-order cognitive operations”. He concluded with two pieces of advice:


  • Create “activity settings” where writing is a tool for learning and not a way of presenting acquired information.
  • Ensure that writing is motivated by the student’s need to communicate ideas that are important – things that he or she wants to say.
  • Teaching for understanding

    I am encouraged once again to see the discussion in the blogosphere about making sure we use Web 2.0 tools to support learning and a new pedagogy in the classroom. Chris Lehmann writes about using the Understanding by Design (UbD) framework by Wiggins and McTighe. We need to make sure we are not doing “activities” just for the sake of their newness or cool factor. With such limited time during the day, each of our assignments must be focused on student understanding and our goals and objectives. Lehmann writes:

    Understanding by Design… we owe it to ourselves and our kids to step back and ask ourselves questions like:

    • How does the use of this tool contribute to a students’ understanding of the unit / project / class.
    • How does the use of the tool enhance a students’ ability to communicate their ideas / refine their presentation skills?
    • Does the tool change the frame or lens with with students can view their learning process?
    • Does the tool powerfully expand or change students’ learning network?
    • Is the tool more fun than useful? (Not that fun is bad, I like fun, but let’s also acknowledge that, in schools, our learning should be “serious fun.”)

    The underlying theme is that we must design our lessons purposefully and thoughfully. I admit it – I am guilty of incorporating a new gadget or tool, or “fun” activity into my lessons just for the sake of the activity – with no real goal or purpose in mind. But after reading UbD, I see now how I could have still used those same tools – but redesigned the lesson in a way that using the tool led to learning and a better understanding of the goal in mind – AND- the students too would know WHY they were doing the activity – a key point that too often we assume they know why (ask them!).

    With the school year looming a month away – it’s time for me to pull out my Understanding by Design book and reread sections so my frame of mind is properly set for lesson planning.

    You might also want to check out the UbD wiki where you can post your UbD curriculum units.

    It’s all about the learning

    Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach made an important statement about Web 2.0 tools and learning:

    It’s All about the Learning

    Teachers like tangibles. I think the reason there is so much focus on the tools, rather than how to use the tools to support learning is because when we are learning something new we want something concrete to manipulate. Web 2.0 tools like blogs, wikis and podcasts give us that concrete fix. Teachers, like their students, need time to explore the tools before getting on with the learning. However, at some point in a PD 2.0 workshop the focus needs to switch from the tool itself to making the tool a seamless medium for mastery of standards-based objectives and 21st Century life skills.

    I have been blogging about my favorite tools lately and I don’t want anyone to get the idea that it’s all about the tools – it’s not – it’s about how the tools support learning. I think Sheryl is right when she states that teachers like students want some time to play around with tools. My concern is always if the the learning stops when the tool is mastered -OR- does the ease of the tool now allow the focus to be whether this new tool will actually support or enhance learning or not.

    Learning.Learning is social. Web 2.0 tools are social and collaborative in nature. The tools embrace the read/write/reflect nature of learning. It is critical for teachers to utilize blogs, wikis, podcasting, and other mash-up tools themselves before they bring these technologies to their classrooms. Once they have experienced this powerful medium that gives them a voice and an audience who reads, responds and reflects upon what they have said – then they will understand how this can be powerful for their own students.

    Because quite frankly, their students are probably already doing it at home and if a teacher doesn’t immerse themselves into this digital world, they will most likely attempt to use Web 2.0 in a instructivist teacher-centered mode. What a shame it will then be when the teacher complains that “these tools” don’t work and throw them out.

    It’s not just about the tools. It’s about embracing a student-centered environment where students have choice … are given opportunities to have their voice heard … are encouraged to be creative … and take ownership of their own learning.

    Our students want this type of learning. Are we providing it?

    (Note: Motivational poster made at fd’s Flickr Toys)

    “You learn from the company you keep”

    The book of learning and forgettingFrank Smith writes in his book “The Book of Learning and Forgetting” that we learn from those around us and those with whom we identify ourselves with. Simply put, you learn from the company you keep. This type of learning is natural and long-term. We learn continuously and without noticeable effort.

    Any of us who have observed students learning a new video game or how to upload music to their iPod understand that today’s students are natural learners – and it all seems so effortless. They are interested, motivated, and they know who are the experts – their friends. To watch one teenager teach another how to do something is amazing – they seem to be able to explain it in a way that others understand and without much fuss.

    I think that we educators can learn a lot from watching students learn in this “classic view” of learning. Our main job is to create an environment where this type of learning is encouraged and expressed – not repressed. Student-centered learning means that the focus is on the learner – not the teacher and how the material is presented. The emphasis is on how the student is learning, the choices they have for expressing their learning, and how the teacher comes to understand that the student is learning.

    Technology has long been an integral component of a learner-centered environment. It’s not the “tool” of the computer that makes it work – it the communication and the authenticity of the work that makes it real. Students who use Web 2.0 tools like social networking sites, IM and video/podcasts can share their original thoughts and ideas with the world and gather real feedback and responses from interested individuals. The conversations that get started are interesting and the students are eager and motivated to respond back – it seems effortless – Smith would call it learning.

    When our students look forward to communicating with their peers about what they are learning and are given opportunities to construct meaningful knowledge (that has nothing to do with answers on a standardized test) – we can be assured that this type of learning will be long-term because the learner has identified himself/herself as a learner.

    Web 2.0 and Learning

    Will Richardson reflects in his blog about the nature of School 2.0 and the “arrival” of Web 2.0 tools. He asks the question

    Through teaching them to use these tools to publish, are we also teaching them how to use these tools to continue the learning once that project is over? Can they continue to explore and reflect on the ideas that those artifacts represent regardless of who is teaching the next class? Can they connect with that audience not simply in the ways that books connect to readers (read but no write) but in the ways that allow them to engage and explore more deeply with an ongoing, growing community of learners? Isn’t that the real literacy here?

    He goes on to state the the Read/Write web really is the Read/Write/Connect/Reflect Web and we need to continue the discussion not so much about the tools – but how knowledge is about connections through individuals.

    I appreciate his reflection on using Web 2.0 tools and learning. Many educators get excited about learning new tools and immediately want to integrate them into their curriculum. What I hear Will saying is that we need to stop and think why we are doing this and does this really represent learning (as oppose to just doing). Frank Smith said in “The Book of Learning and Forgetting” that you learn from the company you keep. Educators everywhere need to create a student-centered environment where learners have opportunities to create, interact, discuss, reflect, build, etc … and if that involves Web 2.0 tools – great. But if educators are only using Web 2.0 tools as an digital version of a worksheet or because it is the latest and greatest thing to hit Education 2.0 – then they are missing the mark.