Category Archives: Try This

Blended Learning: A Program for College and Career Readiness?

There are many different blended learning models today, but what is at the heart of blended learning? According to the Innosight Institute, blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace and least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home.

At first glance, this definition sounds very technical, but at the heart of this definition is a situation in which students are engaged in a realistic learning environment for today’s expectations. This becomes more clear when we consider the needs of the 21st century learner as well as the deficiencies of the 21st century American workforce. Both unveil the misalignment between our current educational practices and our desired outcomes.

As a district administrator, one of my tasks is to coordinate the development of a college going culture. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Helping teachers better understand their students’ needs
  • Helping students to becoming better learners
  • Incorporating 21st century skills

This is where blended learning models come in. These are not silver bullets, but they are ways to better serve students on silver platters. The teachers today are confronted with many obstacles, but blended learning affords them with models to address today’s college and career demands. If we are truly working to prepare students for the rigors of college and career, we have to be focused on how students learn, the learning environment, and the expectations after they leave the K-12 system. If done well, blended learning accomplishes they goals.

What do you Think

Now this is my take, what is yours? For those of you teaching Advanced placement (AP) and Dual Credit courses, how do you see blended learning impacting your classrooms, as you prepare students for college and careers?

Digital Literacy: Essential for College and Career Readiness

Digital Literacy: the awareness of technology tools and the knowledge of when and how to use them.
Today, many K-12 school systems have made great investments in the area of technology integration. Although this is a giant step in the right direction, much more needs to be done to truly transform the learning environment. To make this technological leap more effective, K-12 school systems must focus their attention on determining which technologies must be taught as well as how and under what circumstances they should be used. This pedagogical shift involves pairing the appropriate tools with the learning tasks in question.

Ultimately, the role of today’s educators is to teach students how to learn in a digital environment. In other words, we have to prepare students for college and career by preparing them for learning anything, anytime, anywhere. Since technology changes everyday, students must be able to adapt and learn how to use that new technology quickly and appropriately. This need becomes clearer if we take a closer look at what it means to be college and career ready today. In David Conley’s 2007 EPIC report, Redefining College Readiness, he mentions several relevant characteristics that define the ability to function in today’s “real world” environment. These characteristics are summarized into four distinct dimensions:

  • key cognitive strategies;
  • content knowledge;
  • self-management skills; and
  • knowledge about postsecondary education.

In light of Dr. Conley’s discussion of the complexity of college and career readiness, K-12 school systems must have a more open-minded perspective about how to make improvements in this area. Critically, implementing a comprehensive plan for teaching students about digital literacy is invaluable. Students with a strong grasp of digital literacy will be equipped with the skill sets necessary to navigate through the complexities of college and career readiness by directly or indirectly addressing several of the dimensions mentioned by Dr. Conley. Specifically, students will be able to develop deep content knowledge when lessons are brought to life with authentic technology integration that transforms the learning experience. Digital literacy would help students take full advantage of the digital learning environment. Students will also be able to utilize technology to enhance self-management techniques or compensate for self-management deficiencies. This dimension alone may have the greatest impact on students’ futures due to the long-term implications of personal efficiency and effectiveness on college and career success. Lastly, digital literacy would provide students with the ability to learn more about post-secondary programs, participate in opportunities to experience classrooms and other programs online, and then to make informed academic choices. So, digital literacy is a true essential for college and career readiness.

Choice: Its Role in Public Education Today

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Attention school district leaders, superintendents, and school board members. You are invited to attend a one-day symposium on “choice” in public schools hosted by the Grand Prairie Independent School District. The symposium is scheduled for Thursday, September 12, 2013, from 8:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. at the University of Texas at Arlington’s College Park Center.

Tentative Event Schedule:

  • School Choice Survey in Texas – Dr. David Anthony, CEO, Raise Your Hand Texas
  • GPISD and Choice – Dr. Susan Hull, GPISD Superintendent, and GPISD Board of Trustees
  • Let’s Meet in the Middle: Conversations Across the Aisle to Support Public School Choice – State Senator Royce West and State Senator Kelly Hancock, moderated by Dr. Mike Moses
  • The Choice is Clear. The Choice is Careers. – Tom Pauken, former Texas Workforce Commission Chairman
  • The Story of the SKY Partnership – Dr. Mike Feinberg and Spring Branch ISD
  • Tarrant County Choices – Dr. Robin Ryan, Grapevine/Colleyville ISD Superintendent, and Dr. Marcelo Cavazos, Arlington ISD Superintendent
  • The Power of Commit! – Todd Williams, Executive Director of Commit!
  • “Game On” – J. Puckett, Senior Partner and Managing Director of the Boston Consulting Group
  • Speed Learning Tables for Specific Questions

The cost to attend the symposium is FREE. For more information, contact Sam Buchmeyer, GPISD Director of Public Information, at (972) 264-6141.

Exposing K-12 Schools Achilles’ Heel

One of the most prominent issues that affect K-12 public schools as social organizations is a propensity to operate from the position that “We’re going to do what we’ve always done because that’s what we’ve always done.” This notion is pervasive and widely unrecognized and acknowledged. Likewise, the habits that arise from this notion are formed subtly yet become deeply ingrained in (and debilitating to) the system operations. Practically speaking, systems tend to employ practices or habits that are undocumented in policy, unsupported by data, and are not effectively educating students. The negative consequences of this mindset include that: parents withdraw their students in favor of the more flexible and responsive systems of private and charter schools; educators’ efforts are constrained and academic performance is weak; the best and most innovative educators are recruited by other systems or possibly even leave the field; and students suffer because they are not prepared to meet the demands of an ever changing society. Left unchecked, poor organizational habits within systems ultimately weaken our nation’s ability to compete on the global level.

To address this issue, organizations should establish habits of reflection at the teacher and administrator levels so they can begin to make the connections between practices and outcomes more real or direct. Examples of these habits include: coaching conversations between teachers and teacher leaders; feedback shared by teachers in professional learning communities; and collaborative administrators dialoguing about effective practices. Creating opportunities for reflection not only helps teachers and administrators, but it also promotes an environment and culture in which all stakeholders can challenge organizational habits. In addition to reflection, schools should re-evaluate policies to determine if they are being followed and if they are in support of their short-term and long-term goals. The only thing worse than a bad policy is a good policy that is not followed; nevertheless, both allow schools the continue practicing bad habits. Schools also need to review what is policy and what are actual practices in order to expose unwritten organizational habits. This involves questioning a policy’s clarity and usefulness, evaluating desired outcomes using research and measurement tools, and working to redefine policies based on their findings. Lastly, K-12 public schools should establish protocols for using data to make decisions, set goals, and evaluate programs or outcome. This process should address the questions, “What do we do with the data we receive”, “What questions do you ask”, and “What data sets are most relevant?” Far too often K-12 schools are data rich but information poor; school systems must reach the point where they see the issues clearly and are able to mobilize resources to implement real solutions.

K-12 schools are charged today with the task of educating a quickly changing student body to face the challenges of a dynamic workforce and society. If schools implemented these practical solutions with fidelity, not only will they be able to finally dismantle the debilitating organizational habits that plague them, they will be able to change in the appropriate time frame necessary to respond to the needs of today’s student.

Time for A PLC Refocus

Throughout an academic year an instructional coach can find themselves going through cycles when working within professional learning communities (PLCs).  When you reflect on the function of your PLC group, it is easy to see how the PLC could loose focus on the main goals.  If the facilitator of the PLC doesn’t recognize the need for re-calibration early enough even the most dedicated group of educators could become completely derailed and discouraged.  As a result of experiencing PLC train wrecks as well as PLC success stories, I developed the following short refocusing exercise for the instructional coach or PLC facilitator to implement with a team of teachers.  Every team has different dynamics, but usually around mid-year a very observant instructional coach could begin to notice the signs that suggest it is time for a PLC Refocus.  This is simple in concept, but it requires skillful execution.  If the timing is right and the approach is non-judgmental the PLC could be benefit greatly.  Give a try, and share your result.

PLC Refocus Framework

Focus on Learning

Focus on Collaboration

Focus on Results

Focus on Support

1. How are our actions reflecting that our focus is on student learning!

1. What are our team’s unique strengths and weaknesses?

1. How do you know that collaborative planning times are effective?

1. Specifically, how can external people and resources provide more support towards our efforts?

2. What tools do you use to reveal student understanding?  How do the results impact our collaboration?

2. How are we holding one another accountable for behaviors and actions?

2. What evidence do you see as a result of our collaborative planning?  Is there a significant change or are we doing what we have always done?

2. How could instructional coaching impact our team?

3. As a group what obstacles are holding us back from establishing more productive collaborative planning time?

Revisiting PLC Norms
Present each question to the entire team for collaboration and ask them to share their thoughts one question at a time.  Ask clarifying questions like those below to simplify the group’s responses and collect their final answers.

  1. What will you say and do when you disagree?
  2. What will you say and do when you are not comfortable with a concept or teaching strategy?
  3. What will you say and do when a colleague achieves a goal?
  4. What will you say and do when a colleague doesn’t follow the PLC Norms?

Working with adults, no problem!

So you have to work with an adult learner, and you have some concerns.  Below is a comparison of the learning characteristics of adult learners and youth learners adapted from Rochester Institute of Technology. Of course, these are generalizations with exceptions occurring in each group of learners, but you may want to keep these differences in mind as you consider the learner population you will be working with.

Adult Learners Youth Learners

Problem-centered; seek educational solutions to where they are compared to where they want to be in life

Subject-oriented; seek to successfully complete each learning task, regardless of how the task relates to their own goals

Results-oriented; have specific results in mind for education – will drop out if education does not lead to those results because their participation is usually voluntary

Future-oriented; youth education is often a mandatory or an expected activity in a youth’s life and designed for the youth’s future

Self-directed; typically not dependent on others for direction

Often depend on adults for direction

Often skeptical about new information; prefer to try it out before accepting it

Likely to accept new information without trying it out or seriously questioning it

Seek education that relates or applies directly to their perceived needs, that is timely and appropriate for their current lives

Seek education that prepares them for an often unclear future; accept postponed application of what is being learned

Accept responsibility for their own learning if learning is perceived as timely and appropriate

Depend on others to design their learning; reluctant to accept responsibility for their own learning

In summary, adult learners usually approach learning differently than younger learners:

  • They are more self-guided in their learning.
  • They bring more, and expect to bring more, to a learning situation because of their wider experience – and can take more away.
  • They require learning “to make sense” – they will not perform a learning activity just because you said to do it.