Wednesday, January 20, 2016

How to support reflective educators

Imagine yourself as a young child entering a candy store. The room smells of fruity flavors, luscious chocolate and your eyes are entranced by the rainbow of colors that cover the walls.  You don’t even know where to begin your raid of the store or how you will fit all of your favorite treats in a bag.  This is how I felt when provided the opportunity to use a tablet to improve instructional practices in the classroom.  

My mind was racing to hundreds of ways that this tool could provide meaningful feedback for teacher and instructional coaching conversations.

My journey through this approach has been a roller coaster to say the least.  Of course like many educators, I want to do it well and have it be effective right away.  However, through the process I sought out feedback from a variety of BPS professionals to really get at the desired purpose of the tablet: to provide timely and effective feedback for teachers to move in the continuum of Teaching and Learning Practices.  

The driving questions that helped to guide my journey were:
How can we as instructional coaches provide meaningful and timely feedback?
How can we as instructional coaches support teachers in becoming reflective practitioners?
Is the tablet an appropriate resource to make this happen?  Or is another tool a better fit?

I would liken my journey to a PBL project; I did not go on the exact path that I thought I would.  However, the learning about student and teacher behaviors that happened through my conversations with classroom teachers, instructional coaches, and leadership helped me redirect and revise my approach.  
Here are the results of my research:
  1. I found that teachers loved the instant feedback from the Google Form.  It was a click of a button for me to forward the feedback and then it was right there for us to have a post-conference.  ***They loved getting instant feedback, but it wasn't always connected to what they wanted to know. I was trying to use a standardized form to get information but learned that teachers needed it to be specific and individualized.  You will see a connection between this finding and number three below.
  2. The tablet provided efficiency and ease when videoing a teacher and then having it instantly uploaded to my Google Drive.  This allowed me to share it to the teacher without frustration.
  3. My greatest learning: that teachers should be a part of creating the observation Google Form that will help them to receive the feedback and data that was discussed during the pre-conference.  This then can be observed and reviewed over time.  This allows the teacher and instructional coach to look at the data over time and monitor for growth in teaching practices.  

Future goals:
  1. Teachers will use the video option from the tablet to facilitate triads for PLC discussions.  Teachers could also use it for personal reflection as well.
  2. Instructional coaches will collaborate to research more avenues in which the tablet can grow teachers professionally.
  3. Make observation and feedback cycles a norm for all staff and schools.  Staff are willing to be vulnerable in order to reflect on their instructional practices.  
So just as the kid in the candy store, my eyes were too big for my stomach!  When I was handed my tablet, my mind was full of a million ideas.  But I have zoned in, reflected and refined my own coaching practice to use this tool as a way to be a game changer for BPS staff and students!  

If you were going to collect data to improve your practice, what would it be, and how would you use it?


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Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Flexing Time to Personalize Learning

Legacy High School was designed to be flexible with space and time. For a large majority of schools, how time is scheduled out during any day has remained unchanged despite the changes of the world around us. According to (NASSP) Breaking Ranks II, there are advantages to flexible scheduling. Learning is best when time is varied in duration, personalized and connected to the needs of the students. So when a flexible schedule is implemented with sound, innovative instructional practices, it holds a great deal of promise for students taking the ownership of learning. Time utilization is a key component for any attempt to restructure a schedule. And it is a resource that a school can control.

Schools created traditional schedules based on a uniform unit of time, generally 50 minutes in length defined a “period”. The eight period (without lunch) with each class meeting at a designated time for the same length of time every day became the most efficient way to organize the schedule of classes.
However the one-size-fits all approach does not when it comes to teaching and learning. In response to the lack of flexibility of the traditional schedule, Legacy High School implemented a Flex/Mod Schedule (KX-News).

Legacy High School’s Flex/Mod Schedule divided its school day into 22 twenty-minute instructional “mods”. These mods are combined to adjust class length, depending on the instructional need of the content. Mods can be combined to create classes that generally are between 40 to 80 minutes, however there are electives that are 120 minutes depending on the instructional nature of the course. The flexible combination of the Mods constitute a “phase”. The base “phase” configuration is 2,3,4,4 mods for a total of a possible 260 minutes.
Finally those phases of 13 mods had to be flexible combined to create the master matrix for scheduling. With the final matrix consisting of 8 phases with different combinations of those 13 mods with an extra 6 mods to help with lunch.

The strength of the flex/mod schedule depends less on the term “mod” and more on the word flexible “flex”. The most important purpose of the new flex/mod schedule was to individualize and personalize learning, by varying the time. Decision about frequency and length or class meeting were made by each teacher with learning in mind. This led to the creation of a schedule that utilized the various mod combination into four categories – large group instruction, lab/discussion groups, small group (differentiated) instruction and time for individual independent study time “Saber Time”.

Large group instruction generally meet 2 mods with up to 200+ students at one time. This time is intended to be used for guest speakers, giving exams, multi-media presentations and lecture presentations by the teachers to introduce the next learning cycle. 
Meeting in large groups reduce time wasted by eliminating the need to repeat presentations and creates time for smaller student groups elsewhere in the schedule.

The second category, lab/discussion group, which are made up of far fewer students. Usually between 16-26 students similar to the typical high school classroom. 
Students in lab/discussion groups explore/expand on the lesson that was introduced in the large group.

The third category, the small group (differentiated) instruction is the backbone of flex/mod schedule. Teachers can differentiate instruction 8–16 students participate in in-depth discussion and exploration of a subject. In this setting, relationships are higher order learning is developed, and the free flow of ideas takes place.

The final category, individual independent study time “Saber Time”
is unstructured time for students. During Saber Time students participate in independent learning throughout the school. Teachers act as consultants to support students who actively take responsibility for their learning. Students freely choose how to spend their unstructured time, such as obtaining extra help, getting caught up in a class, participating in enrichment activities, or studying independently. If students choose not to use their time wisely, they will be scheduled into formal “Call Back” mods for those courses that they are failing.

The basic idea behind Flex/Mod is that the instructional program should drive the schedule, not be driven by it. If implemented well by a committed teachers working in PLCs, the advantages of flexible modular scheduling can greatly outweigh its disadvantages:
  • Students have the opportunity to take more classes, which enables them to pursue extra electives and make up credits. As a result, student deficiencies are addressed and elective areas are strengthened.
  • Students develop an increased sense of responsibility and time management, which serves them well in higher education settings and the workplace.
  • Through small group phases and the guidance program, students can develop strong relationships with peers and adults.
  • The schedule supports learning and instruction and is customized for each subject’s unique needs, which create opportunities for meaningful labs/discussions. The schedule is driven by the instructional program, not vice versa.
  • The schedule provides an enhancement of 21st Century Skills in all student opportunities for increased teacher collaboration, and promotion of research-proven best practices

Flex/Mod offers unique opportunities for team teaching, interdisciplinary classes, and ongoing professional development that draw on the strengths of the staff. On the other hand, Legacy High School must deal with the following challenges:
  • PowerScheduler software cannot schedule Flex/Mod. At Legacy High School, a school of about currently 800 students, a master timetable with almost 5,000 individual class phases must be created each school year.
  • Unstructured independent learning time leads to unique student accountability and attendance challenges.
  • There are conflicts with CTE Traditional Block Schedule with LHS Flex/Mod scheduling, so two different class phases may overlap a day or two each week.
  • Because a higher degree of responsibility and ownership for learning are placed on the student in a Flex/Mod system, extra attention and focus need to be given to those students who take advantage of the system.
  • Mods 9 to 16 are designated for lunch for students to use from their open mods, however there are some students that occasionally get only a 20 minute lunch on some days.
  • Because Flex/Mod is so different from what most adults are familiar with, there is a continual need to educate parents, new teachers, board members, and the community about the value and philosophy behind it.

Flex/Mod is not a perfect system, but Legacy High School is committed to refining the process. Because with the right settings with the right staff and combined with researched-based instructional practices, the benefits of Flex/Mod can be significant.
Flex/Mod Presentation