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By: Staff Blogger
For Sycamore High School students, it’s more than innovation. It’s Synnovation. The school’s Synnovation Lab shifted away from a traditional bell schedule so that students are able to set a pace that works best for their individual learning styles. With its dynamic approach to personalized learning, students are empowered to take ownership of their instruction and challenged to take responsibility for when they master a concept and are ready to advance to the next area. Sycamore sophomores Isabel and Jake personally invited State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria to see their school in action. The students showcased Sycamore’s points of pride on Feb. 8 during Superintendent DeMaria’s visit.
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By: Steve Gratz
Editor's Note: Our colleague, Steve Gratz, is retiring after many years in education. Steve’s blogs have challenged many education concepts and provided sage advice for innovation in education. Thank you, Steve. We wish you luck as you transition to your next opportunity.
I’m retiring from the Ohio Department of Education on Dec. 31, 2018, after 36 years in education and 10 state superintendents of public instruction — including two interims. Seven of those years were spent as a teacher of agriculture, and the remaining 29 were with the Department in various capacities — the last five serving as one of the agency’s senior executive directors.
When I started my career as a teacher of agriculture in 1983, I never envisioned the path my career would take. I’ve had the opportunity to teach thousands of students at the secondary and postsecondary levels and coach more than 200 Ohio FFA state officers. I love the teaching and learning process and will always consider myself a teacher and learner.
During my 29 years at the Department, I visited hundreds of schools — mainly high schools and career centers. I enjoyed visiting with students, teachers, administrators, board members and community members. Coupled with my teaching experience, these visits helped frame and solidify my teaching philosophy. At one time during my career, I thought I wanted to be a school administrator and went back to the classroom, but I soon realized I could have a greater impact back at the Department.
I have delivered hundreds of presentations throughout my career, including a few commencement speeches. During some of my recent presentations, I’ve shared a list of items those looking to redesign a school should consider. A few people asked for my list, so I felt it would be appropriate to share in my final blog.
These are not in any particular order of importance sans the first one. This list is not meant to be exhaustive but rather thought-provoking. This list is fluid, and I’m sure I’ll revisit it often.
- Transition all students to something and not out of high school. For too many years, we have been focusing on transitioning students out of school simply because they have met graduation requirements. It is time for us to adjust how we envision student success, and graduation alone is not the right measure. Graduation rates out of high school are not nearly as important as student success rates out of high school.
- Make your district the economic driver for your community and region by identifying in-demand sectors in your region — keep your talent local but don’t prevent students from pursuing their career aspirations. Some students may need coaching on differentiating a hobby and a vocation. The recently released OhioMeansJobs Workforce Data Tools website is an excellent resource to help start the process.
- Develop in-demand pathways beginning no later than grade 7, and show the progression of advancement. These begin as broad pathways and narrow as the student progresses. At a minimum, start a Personalized Professional Pathway program. This can be a quick win for students and the community.
- Blur the lines between technical and academic content. I firmly believe this will result in more meaningful teaching and learning. The burden shouldn’t fall on educators alone to make these connections. Employers, communities, and industry leaders should reach out and support educators in making academic and technical concepts real for students.
- Increase the number of integrated courses offered so students receive simultaneous credit. Integrated coursework and simultaneous credit can redesign the school day. If you don’t believe me, ask any STEM school.
- Increase the percentage of students completing Student Success Plans through OhioMeansJobs. Currently, this is only required for at-risk-students, but I encourage all students to have Student Success Plans.
- Ensure every school employee knows the career aspirations of every student. By knowing students’ career aspirations, teachers can contextualize their teaching to students’ interests during the “formal” teaching and learning process and help advise students during the “informal” teaching and learning process. I believe this would have positive impact on the ethos of the school.
- Embrace personalized learning for ALL students. Coupled with competency-based learning, personalized learning will allow students to progress at their own pace. The Future Ready Framework is a great resource to assist with developing personalized learning.
- Provide ALL students with the supports they need to succeed. This will look different from district to district; school to school; and student to student. A good place to begin is the Department’s webpage for Ohio’s Social and Emotional Learning Standards.
- Utilize the Literacy Design Collaborative and the Math Design Collaborative to ensure students are learning literacy and numeracy skills across all disciplines.
- Increase the percentage of students earning industry credentials, where applicable. Please make sure the credentials being earned align to students’ career aspirations.
- Increase the percentage of students participating in work-based learning experiences. There’s ample evidence-based research on the benefits of experiential learning not to mention the embedded work readiness skills.
- Increase the percentage of students earning the OhioMeansJobs-Readiness Seal. The OhioMeansJobs-Readiness Seal is for ALL students, and research indicates that students who have the attributes aligned with the OhioMeansJobs-Readiness Seal are more persistent in their postsecondary endeavors.
- Provide counseling to students for two years after graduation. I realize there are additional costs associated with this concept, but I truly believe this strategy would be extremely impactful to student success. This should be combined with the Career Advising Plan required of every district.
- Work with the Business Advisory Council and regional partners. Students need to learn skills that businesses require, so they can get well-paying jobs as adults. And who can do this better than business? Be sure to involve teachers with the Business Advisory Council too.
- Blur the line between secondary and postsecondary education. Schools need to increase work toward a system that eliminates grades, both student grades and class grades. Competency-based education is an excellent model for school redesign to help accomplish the elimination of grades.
- Encourage participation in all advanced standing programs when students are ready. College Credit Plus is one of the most robust dual-enrollment programs in the country. Districts with limited access to Advanced Placement (AP) courses can encourage student participation in Modern States' “Freshman Year for Free” program, where students can enroll and take tests in AP and CLEP courses for free.
- Start collecting longitudinal data on high school graduates. This data will prove invaluable when sharing the success of graduates. Data should include, but is not limited to, uninsured employment data and college persistence and graduation rates (National Student Clearinghouse).
- Establish metrics with your local board of education that define school and student success. These should be the metrics that are most important to the community.
- Continuous improvement is fundamental to ensuring students are prepared when they transition. This is imperative at all levels of the educational system.
- Communicate ad nauseum with school employees and the community members on the school’s or district’s vision and progress toward that vision.
- Maintain outreach to school and district alumni. One of my favorite ways to engage alumni came from a district that has a class reunion every year, including a parade spotlighting classes in five-year increments. After the parade, all alumni enjoy a picnic together at the community park.
- Share quick wins and promising practices on the SuccessBound webpage.
- Think big, start small, scale fast.
- Move forward with a sense of urgency.
No one should look at this list and feel compelled to try to implement too many at one time. Ideally, school leaders would collaborate with instructional staff to prioritize new initiatives.
Those familiar with Ohio’s Strategic Plan for Education will see a strong correlation with my philosophy, especially with Strategy 10, and that makes me smile.
It has been a great and rewarding career in education, and I am looking forward to transitioning to my next career. Starting in early January, I will be helping a good friend with a program he founded — AgriCorps. AgriCorps focuses on ending generational poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. We’ll be traveling to Ghana, Liberia and Kenya to kick off 2019. Additionally, I’ll be assisting a few educational service centers and districts with school improvement and redesign.
I’m active on LinkedIn, so please reach out and stay connected.
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By: Virginia Ressa
Ohio recently hosted its first Future Ready Schools Institute, which I was lucky enough to attend. Prior to the institute, my knowledge of Future Ready was limited to an understanding that the focus was on personalizing student learning. As a specialist in the Office for Exceptional Children at the Ohio Department of Education, I was hoping to learn how the Future Ready Schools initiative supports teachers in meeting the needs of Ohio’s diverse learners, including our students with disabilities, gifted students and English learners. It turned out to be a great two days and well worth the travel and time away from the office. I learned more than I expected and was left thinking about how the Future Ready Framework and its focus on personalized student learning can help Ohio work toward supporting the whole child.
Future Ready Framework
The Future Ready Framework has seven key categories or “gears,” with personalized student learning at the center. The outside rings emphasize the cyclical nature of transformation and the importance of collaborative leadership. Check out the framework on the Future Ready Schools website.
What I like about this graphic is that personalized student learning is right there in the middle, at the center of all of those other important pieces that are essential to successful school improvement. The framework details how each of the gears supports the goal of personalized learning. Clicking through and reading the content in the Future Ready Framework is a bit daunting at first — there is a great deal of content to engage with. Self-assessments can be used to encourage leadership teams to question and analyze their current practices, an essential step to any improvement effort. You’ll also see links to many evidence-based resources, research reports and case studies of successful reforms. There are even rubrics to assess our adult practices! Another nice feature of the site is that the content links take you back to the ideas in the seven gears — a consistent reminder they are all connected.
Personalized Student Learning
Being at the center of the framework, personalized student learning is called out as having the greatest importance in this model. You might think defining personalized learning is easy or obvious, but a quick Google search told me otherwise. So, how do the folks at Future Ready Schools define personalized student learning? They offer a couple of different descriptions depending on which “gear” you are focused on — I like the description connected to Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment:
Educators leverage technology and diverse learning resources to personalize the learning experience for each student. Personalization involves tailoring content, pacing, and feedback to the needs of each student and empowering students to regulate and take ownership of some aspects of their learning.
I like how this description uses the phrase “learning experience” because it acknowledges that learning is ongoing and not a set of isolated events. The description also includes two high-impact, research-based formative instructional practices: feedback and student ownership of learning. However, the most important word in that description is “empowering.” We can and should empower our students to be active participants in planning, regulating and assessing their learning. Empowering students to participate in decision-making provides opportunities for students to reflect on their learning, think critically about their work, self-assess and determine next steps toward success.
Personalized Student Learning in Ohio
The State Board of Education and the Ohio Department of Education recently approved a strategic plan, Each Child, Our Future. One of the plan’s three core principles is equity, stressing that, “Appropriate supports must be made available so personal and social circumstances do not prohibit a child from reaching his or her greatest aspiration” (Ohio Department of Education, 2018, p. 10). A focus on personalized learning will accelerate Ohio’s work toward implementing the principle of equity.
Aligned with Ohio’s strategic plan, Future Ready Ohio is working to advance authentic, personalized learning experiences. Future Ready Ohio helps districts develop comprehensive plans to achieve successful student learning outcomes by 1) transforming instructional pedagogy and practice while 2) simultaneously leveraging technology to personalize learning in the classroom. Future Ready Schools and the Future Ready Ohio effort can help districts as they work to contribute to Ohio’s strategic plan.
I encourage not only educators, but families and community members as well, to learn more about Future Ready Ohio. Did I mention the FREE resources available? Free self-assessments and rubrics are available to assist districts with creating and implementing action plans focused on empowering students to be ready for the future. I’ve just touched on one aspect of the framework — there is so much more to learn about the resources available to Ohio districts. For more information, contact Stephanie Donofe Meeks, the director of Ohio’s Future Ready work, and be sure to read her excellent blog posts.
Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.
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By: Stephanie Donofe Meeks
Who remembers the original Star Trek television series from the 1960s, set in the 23rd century, when Scotty would talk to the computer? We all thought that was a long way off, but a few days ago I dashed out my front door and yelled, “Alexa, turn off the dining room lights!” Granted, Alexa is not setting a vector for warp speed travel, but that's still my voice activating a cyber response to a physical object. I can ask Alexa to order something from Amazon, tell me the weather in Myrtle Beach or to settle a debate with my husband about a Civil War fact. (He was right.)
Using an interface like Alexa is part of the cyber connection to our physical world often referred to as the Internet of Things. The concept is not new; however, it is now embedded in our everyday life rather than being a nebulous concept from Star Trek. If we think about it in terms of the Industrial Revolution, we are in the fourth iteration of the Industrial Revolution. This is where the cyber and the physical are more connected and work together.
We talk about preparing kids for an unknown future but isn't that what we've always done in schools? The difference is we now have a greater understanding about the future of jobs and growth industries. How do we get students ready, no matter what the future brings?
One way is to establish personalized learning environments and maximize learning for all students. It's not a defined, exact science so much as it is a collection of elements that define the learning environment. It is a child-centered approach using technology as an accelerator for learning. In schools doing this, you will see the following priorities and related actions displayed in this infographic:
The Alliance for Excellent Education developed the Future Ready Framework for Personalized Learning. The Framework provides districts with a free resource to plan and support personalized learning environments. Going through the district assessment process allows for rich conversations about all the areas needed to personalize learning for students, not just about what device a district will purchase. If we believe that personalized learning can truly maximize learning for each child, our next step should be making this a reality. For more information, you can start here.
Let me leave you with this: If students can find answers by just asking Alexa, then how do we change the questions we want students to answer? Do we teach them what to think or how to think? Watch this video for more on the difference between knowledge and thinking.
For tips on using Alexa in the classroom, click here!
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By: Stephanie Donofe Meeks
Any “This Is Us” fans out there? In a recent episode of the television drama series, Randall, one of the siblings, was talking about getting his first pair of glasses as a child. He shared his experience with the “better here machine.” Have you ever had a vision screening? They put a device over your head so that it aligns with your eyes to find the proper lens strength to help you see more clearly. As each new lens is tried, you're supposed to look through and decide if you see better with the current lens or former lens. The technician or doctor will ask, “Here or better here?” as he or she switches quickly between lens strengths (which can be sort of amusing when they do it fast).
The character Randall used the “better here machine” as a way to explain his perspective looking back on his childhood with his siblings. I thought that was a powerful metaphor for the way we bring our own unique perspectives to a common experience, including education. In a personalized learning environment, all staff and students have different perspectives. The key to successful transformation to personalized learning is aligning various perspectives and taking advantage of the best aspects of each unique lens.
In my last blog, I talked about using a team approach and the Future Ready Framework to help districts prepare for creating true personalized learning environments for students. An essential component to becoming Future Ready is making a systemic digital learning plan before purchasing the next round of technology. This process includes creating a leadership team and using the district self-assessment tool to determine how prepared the district is to support digital learning environments. Districts get feedback that shows both areas of readiness and areas for growth. Looking at the alignment of all the elements for success can assure districts that their planning will be effective.
If a district uses the Future Ready Framework to help make strategic decisions regarding moving to environments that support personalized learning, the next step is implementation. Future Ready encourages specific roles, such as librarians and instructional coaches, to view the framework, strategies and connections through their specific lenses. Once a district team uses the districtwide lens to look at, reflect and assess its readiness in each element critical to success, the individuals on the team can see the specific ways they can implement the plan via their own unique lenses based on their roles in the district.
Each role’s customized framework helps implement personalized learning for the district based on the specific ways their work will support each gear. Let’s look at two role-specific examples through the lenses of principals and technology leaders that define the ways they can support personalized learning environments for students:
Future Ready Principals believe in:
- Modeling the type of professional learning by empowering staff to lead, learn, fail, and repeat.
- Making anytime, anywhere learning a reality.
- Developing a plan to ensure ubiquitous connectivity in and out of school.
- Advocating for the use of multiple strategies to meet the needs of diverse learners.
- Working to build partnerships to communicate and agree upon a shared vision for student learning in their community.
Future Ready Technology Leaders believe in:
- Making anytime, anywhere, anyhow learning a reality.
- Supporting an open, flexible, robust digital learning environment.
- Insuring data safety and privacy while promoting best practices in digital citizenship.
- Planning for future innovation and technology that supports learning.
- Creating a transparent environment that communicates to all stakeholders.
To see more information about the leadership roles within Future Ready, click here. As you can see, each role plays a unique part in helping the district as a whole move forward with transformation. By using the framework as its own “better here machine,” a district can create a clear vision and path forward by looking through the lens of the powerful gears and the educator-specific roles. For more information or questions regarding this framework, please contact Stephanie Meeks or follow #FutureReadyOH on Twitter. Future Ready also will be the topic of six sessions at the Ohio Educational Technology Conference Feb. 13-15.
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By: Stephanie Donofe Meeks
While thinking about celebrating Thanksgiving, it occurred to me that turkey day is a total team sport, filled with pre-game planning in all areas. Besides all the obvious metaphors of cooking and football, I also thought about the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Specifically, I thought about the teamwork it takes to manage the hallmark of the parade...the balloons!
Those balloons are managed by teams of handlers, with the average balloon requiring 90 people and a pilot who walks backward the whole way. There also is a balloon captain who signals to the handlers when they need to change hand positions on the ropes. It is a totally coordinated effort for these balloons to fly straight and not escape into the crowd...or other hazards. Planning and training go on all year — no one just shows up and grabs a rope!
How does this metaphor relate to personalized learning? In my last blog, A Year on Pause, I shared my reflections on personalized learning with regard to my recovery from a serious auto accident. One of my major takeaways from my year was how amazing and essential the team approach was to my progress. If the team approach works so well, why don’t we use it more often in education?
To systematically transform schools into true personalized learning environments, a vision and a plan that includes all areas to support education would be a good place to start. One resource to help districts is the Future Ready Framework. Using the Future Ready Framework for visioning and planning is a great way to look at all the different elements that support education in your district. Ohio is supporting this free resource for districts looking for a way to plan and implement personalized learning. This national initiative was designed to have state support and, most importantly, local impact.
When high-quality teaching is infused with the dynamic use of technology, personalized student learning becomes possible. The Future Ready Framework is a road map that districts can use to successfully implement personalized, digital learning. The framework assists districts in planning how to prepare students for success in college, careers and citizenship. Following this road map requires systemic changes. With personalized student learning at its core, the framework helps districts align each of the seven key categories, called Gears, to ensure a successful conversion to digital learning.
The seven Gears are:
- Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment;
- Use of Space and Time;
- Robust Infrastructure;
- Data and Privacy;
- Community Partnerships;
- Personalized Professional Learning; and
- Budget and Resources.
The outside ring of the framework emphasizes the need for collaborative leadership. It also displays a continuous cycle of district visioning, planning, implementation and assessment. Once a district is prepared in each gear, district leaders can be confident they are ready for a highly successful implementation phase that leads to innovation empowered by digital learning.
Using this resource starts with a district leadership team doing an assessment to find out where the district stands in each gear. After this initial district assessment, leaders can determine the district’s digital readiness in each gear. Then, they can dive deeper into a gear they may want to develop. Ohio will be kicking off its official training for using the framework at the annual Ohio Educational Technology Conference. There will be sessions for district leaders, individual programs and specific school personnel roles. In addition to the district framework, there are frameworks based on roles to help support the work, including frameworks for district leaders, principals, technology leaders, coaches and librarians. You can find more information here.
If you are ready to use this framework or would like more information, you can start on the Department’s Future Ready site.
In future blogs, I will discuss the individual gears and programs. If you already are using this resource for planning, let me know. I will share your achievements to help other Ohio districts build their success. Use #FutureReadyOH to stay up to date with the Future Ready work around Ohio.
I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving — no matter how you choose to personalize and celebrate it. Since all my family cannot be together on the official day, we have created our own unique celebration the weekend before in a feast we call Molto Grazie. It does take serious planning and a team effort, but it is always worth it.
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By: Steve Gratz
I’ve been involved with education on multiple levels for 35 years. I started teaching in 1983 as a teacher of agriculture. If you recall, in 1983, a presidential commission released the report Nation at Risk calling for significant changes to the educational system. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, we saw a steady decline in the number of students enrolling in vocational education as there was a greater emphasis placed on academics and college for all. At the time, schools considered students either in a vocational track, college prep track or general studies track. This was the first time I remember the adults showing great concern over what column we put the tally in as we “tracked” students.
As a beginning teacher, I worked hard to recruit students to enroll in our vocational agriculture program. At the time, to receive funding from the state, districts could serve only 48 to 60 students. This was to ensure that our vocational agricultural teachers had the capacity to manage their laboratories and to conduct the required number of home visitations throughout the calendar year.
When I started teaching, many of my students were “placed” into my program as guidance counselors determined that certain students were not college bound. I invested a lot of time during my first few years of teaching to increase the rigor of my program by emphasizing the embedded academics in the competencies that were part of my course of study. I did this as I had to change the perception of the program so ALL students were welcome, including those planning to attend college.
Paralleling this work was a movement across the country called AgriScience. With support from the agricultural industry, AgriScience became the rage as it demonstrated how schools could teach and reinforce academic content through technical education. My good friend, Brad Moffitt, and I were both AgriScience Teachers of the Year in the mid-1980s because of our early adoption of the initiative. I remember students earned science credit because of the embedded science standards throughout the program. Brad and I quickly tried to separate ourselves from traditional vocational agriculture programs by capitalizing on the ground swell of support for AgriScience. Looking back, I was adding yet another column in which to place the student tally. I fought hard to separate our program from traditional programs as I perceived we were different.
This wasn’t the first-time education experienced the merging of academic and technical education. In 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, which in turn led to our first STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) crisis. Sputnik triggered a federal response, the National Defense Education Act (NDEA), since many said that our public schools and colleges were doing an inadequate job teaching math and science.
"This Act, which is an emergency undertaking to be terminated after four years, will in that time do much to strengthen our American system of education so that it can meet the broad and increasing demands imposed upon it by considerations of basic national security…Much remains to be done to bring American education to levels consistent with the needs of our society. The federal government having done its share, the people of the country, working through their local and State governments and through private agencies, must now redouble their efforts toward this end." -Dwight D. Eisenhower
Education and educators continue to fight over which column to record the student tally. Today many of those columns are labeled with CTE, STEM, STEAM, Career Pathways, etc. and schools play the tally game with programs like High Schools That Work, FutureReady, etc. Again, I share this because I believe those of us in education spend too much time concerning ourselves with which column we place the tally. At times it seems we argue amongst ourselves which column (read initiative) is best for schools and students.
In education, we have numerous initiatives in motion at any one time. We can integrate some of these programs into current educational practices while layering others on top of current work. I think it is great that schools have options and that school leaders can choose the best options based upon the wishes of their community, but we need to coordinate.
Because of my education at Apollo Career Center, I was a trained as a certified mechanic. I built quite the inventory of tools to ensure I had the correct tool for the job. When I began a new repair, I rarely used the same set of tools as the previous one because each was unique and required a personalized approach. The same holds true for education. All educators need a toolbox that they can use to help personalize the education for ALL students. That might mean mixing up the tools and combining curriculum from various tracks. We need to limit our desire to narrowly label an initiative as appropriate for one track or another, because we need to personalize education for each student. Too much effort is spent on getting the tally in the right column. We need to redirect that effort into blurring the lines and doing what’s best for ALL students.
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By: Stephanie Donofe Meeks
Hello, everyone! You last heard from me more than a year ago, as I was in a car accident last summer. It was of the lucky-to-be-alive magnitude kind of car accident, and I am so grateful to be back at work now. This year on pause gave me time for some deep reflection during my recovery process.
In particular, I was struck by the parallels between personalized learning and my recovery. At the hospital, the trauma team used a set of protocols for unconscious victims to establish and triage my injuries. Based on this thorough assessment, the team determined I had broken both legs, among other damages. The assessment was extensive, and the trauma surgeons began treating the breaks immediately, using typical treatments for typical fractures. My right leg, however, was not a standard break, so alternative methods were used for my situation. If the team had done what it usually does for a fracture, I would not be walking today.
Lying in bed healing for two months and then recovering for another eight, I had a lot of time to think. The idea of my personalized treatment had me thinking about personalized learning and what it really means. I could overlay my situation to exactly how personalized learning can help students succeed. Some students respond to the typical and usual methods of instruction and succeed. Some students do not and need other strategies to achieve success. Most students have areas of strength and areas of challenge in learning. For example, standard teaching methods may work with them in social studies but not in science. I think too many times we look for a single-point solution in education…one tool or resource that will work for everyone…and that just is not the case.
Digital tools can assist, but they are not the only solution. Multiple solutions can be used to support multiple needs. In addition, a small set of tools can be applied differently to personalize learning for students. Perhaps you utilize online resources; do all students use them the same way? If you think of your resources as currencies, how will you spend them? This could include time and space—something as simple as a different room arrangement or a different structure for in-class time can help personalize learning for students. What are resources you have that can be used differently? How can standard assessment protocols be used to personalize a learning plan?
I did not recover alone. I had a team of support, from the initial trauma team to the physical therapy team, as well as an alternative therapies team. They were so willing to look for solutions for me to walk again; they never gave up looking for solutions, even ones they had not tried in the past. In education, we have many kinds of teams. How do we best utilize our support systems to personalize learning for all? What are the first steps that you can take to help personalize learning for students?
With the start of a new school year, we have the opportunity for a new beginning, new thinking and new planning. NONE of us can predict the future—but with the right tools and planning, we can be ready when it comes. HAPPY NEW YEAR—make it awesome!
Next up in the series…using a framework with a team approach to personalize learning.
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By: Guest Blogger
Perry Local Schools, located in Northeast Ohio, is a small, rural district with a mission to inspire all students to achieve personal excellence, pursue world-class standards and become self-directed lifelong learners. We want all students to leave Perry Local Schools with hope and a skill set to be prepared for life. Authentic learning experiences are key to helping our students become workforce ready. To reach this goal of readiness, we are creating personalized learning opportunities for our students to ensure they have the tools necessary to be successful. At Perry, we want to find the right balance of traditional education and evaluation measures, along with authentic experiences, that have a performance-based assessment component. Student voice and choice play a key role in helping students have an awareness of their learning and understanding of their strengths and areas of growth.
We want our students to be able to answer the following questions as they navigate through their educational journeys:
- What are my strengths and interests?
- What do I want to be?
- How do I get there?
- Will I be successful once I get there?
Pathways at Perry, spearheaded by Todd Porcello, Perry High School principal, shows the educational pathways available at Perry High School. In addition, we began a Learning Through Internship course that provides real-world career experiences, along with building employability skills. Our Virtual Career Center has the information for parents, students and community partners. High school teacher Rita Soeder has worked to ensure that the course guides students toward career readiness. Robert Knisely, the principal at Perry Middle School, has led his school to ensure the students have a balance of academic, behavior and career skills. The scope and sequence is found here: Middle School Pathways to Success.
In order to move forward with authentic learning, we need to have assessment systems in place that will support authentic learning initiatives. Working toward that balance, Perry Schools has been part of two grants that focused on competency-based education.
First, we are part of the consortium (Perry Schools, Cleveland Heights-University Heights City Schools, Kirtland Local Schools, Maple Heights City Schools, Orange City Schools and Springfield City Schools), through the Educational Service Center of Cuyahoga County, that received a grant from the Competency-Based Education Pilot to create an innovative and scalable competency-based assessment system. Knowing that students must leave our schools with the abilities to learn at deep levels, pursue personal passions and strengths, and build skills to be career ready, we have been working to establish an assessment system that will capture components that standardized tests do not. Stanford University’s Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE) supported this effort throughout the year. Perry Local has begun the implementation of our learning Six Practices for Self-Directed, Authentic Instruction (adapted from the Buck Institute and SCALE) and aligned it with the Formative Instructional Practices, which include the following:
- Setting a Clear task — focus, clarity and coherence; [FIP 2]
- Proficiency rubric clarifies expectations, measures progress and supports feedback/goal setting; [FIP 2/4/5]
- Relevant, challenging issue/question-connecting curriculum through life skills in real-world, worthwhile work;
- Student agency: voice, choice, decision-making and growth mindset; [FIP 5]
- Learning is personalized to student strengths and interests; [FIP 5]
- Exhibition: product is critiqued by public/experts to include clear feedback. [FIP 4]
One of the goals of our work with the Competency-Based Education Pilot grant is to have more valid, varied and richer measures of student learning. We have paired that with creating authentic learning experiences that are vetted to meet rigorous criteria for measuring the learning objectives. During this grant period, two cohorts of teachers received professional development, where our teachers created performance tasks in four content areas. We learned methods and components that are included to ensure that these types of tasks ask students to think and produce to demonstrate their learning. These tasks could be authentic to the discipline and/or the real world. We learned about the four types of assessments but concentrated on three: curriculum-based, on-demand and constructive response.
A highlight of our consortium team’s work included a critical dialogue between higher education institutions and K-12 districts to understand each other’s work, so we can begin to align and transition our students as they matriculate to postsecondary work.
As we looked closely at our instructional practices, we wanted to include not only content (cognitive learning), but also to begin to intentionally teach life competencies (noncognitive factors). Our second area of work for this year is collaborating with seven school districts (Perry Schools, Chardon Local Schools, Fairport Harbor Exempted Village Schools, Mayfield City Schools, North Olmsted City Schools, Olmsted Falls City Schools and Wickliffe City Schools) to identify, define and determine how to monitor and evaluate life competency skills (otherwise known as noncognitive factors, 21st century skills or employability skills). The district’s cohorts of 10-12 teachers worked with Camille Farrington, from the University of Chicago and EdLeader21, to identify, define and build the strategies of “how” we can embed life competencies into our instruction. In addition, using information gathered during the EdLeader21 Professional Development and the Competency-Based Education grant work, we are creating our graduate profile.
Three years ago, we began Authentic Learning Personalized for Higher Achievement (ALPHA), which is a twist on learning how to do the project-based learning process. This project not only provides instruction in the process, it is a collaborative between school districts where students are teaching students about project-based learning with teachers participating by having the process modeled for them. This is a great way to begin a slow introduction of project-based learning.
Career mentoring is an articulated plan from grades 5-12 that allows students to explore interests and passions; take assessments, interest inventories and job skill identifiers; and find a career pathway(s) for selection of coursework.
Personalized Learning at Perry Schools highlights the details of our ALPHA project and our career mentoring program, along with additional information on our Life Competency Grant work, which are just a few ways we are working to individually tailor the learning process for our students.
Amy Harker has been an educator for thirty-one years. Currently she is the Director of Student Services and College and Career Readiness at Perry Local School District. In 2017-2018, she will assume the role of Northeast Regional Career and Innovation Specialist. You can contact Amy by clicking here.
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By: Steve Gratz
A few months ago, Dan Keenan, executive director, Martha Holden Jennings Foundation, called and asked if he could send my contact information to Fairport Harbor School District superintendent, Domenic Paolo. I agreed and had a wonderful phone conversation with Dr. Paolo about the schools’ Hooked on Education project. Domenic invited me to Fairport Harbor to witness the project and visit with teachers and students.
Hooked on Education is a personalized learning project that had an authentic beginning that started with a 3-D printer, a student-centered teacher and a struggling student with a great idea. Fairport Harbor is located next to Lake Erie and much of the economic development of the region is stimulated by the lake. The Fairport Harbor School District has a K-12 enrollment of around 750 students. It is a unique district as they do not have a transportation department — all students walk to school.
One of the students at Fairport Harbor had a history of consistently being in trouble during his middle grade years. Domenic indicated that the student’s discipline was such a challenge that many teachers confronted him on how best to handle the student. It just so happened that one teacher was finally able to connect with the student due to a shared interest in fishing. The teacher encouraged the student to use the district’s 3-D printer to create his own fishing lure. Fortunately, the student accepted the challenge, and that’s how the Hooked on Education project was born.
After several weeks of work, the student provided Domenic, who is also an avid fisherman, with his prototype lure. Visually, it left a lot be desired, but Domenic was positive and told the student he would give it a try on his next excursion. Domenic shared with me that he pulled that lure out toward the end of his last fishing trip and much to his surprise, the student created a lure that worked!
Fundamental to the success of Hooked on Learning is the need for excellent teaching, which places students at the center of the instruction; and deeper learning where inquiry and higher order thinking are incorporated into relevant curricula. Today, the project has 30 students learning Ohio’s Learning Standards that are embedded in their project-based learning lessons. Observing the classroom where students and teachers were engaged in multiple disciplines and at various grade levels was refreshing. The teacher’s enthusiasm for being part of this unique culture left a smile on my face and feeling as giddy as I was when I was in the classroom. Moreover, the Hooked on Learning project has been designed to give students a better and deeper learning experience by developing community connections, increasing access to excellent teaching and engaging student talents and interests by personalizing their learning, so they can develop all their “intelligences.”
Domenic commented that, “personalized learning makes our project possible.” He shared that the power of the district’s model of personalized learning grows out of four interdependent components used to develop personalized learning plans:
A detailed understanding or profile of each learner;
A clear set of standards toward which each learner is progressing;
Collaboration with each learner to construct a customized learning plan;
A well-chosen project that is relevant, embedded in the community and developed around the talents and interests of our students.
Domenic and I wrapped up my visit by tagging along with a few students and one of the project-based learning teachers to visit MJM Industries, where students were negotiating the final specs on their initial production-quality mold that will be used to launch the manufacturing of their first line of fishing lures. After the brief review of documents, the CEO and the teacher discussed the process more thoroughly to enrich the learning experience for the students.
What a rewarding visit, and how lucky these students and teachers are to be engaged in the educational system at Fairport Harbor. Domenic has more planned for the future and is hoping to share the lessons that he has learned throughout this process and to learn from other educators. This summer, Fairport Harbor and Mentor Schools will host a symposium for blended and personalized learning at Mentor’s Paradigm Building, and participation is free for Ohio school district personnel. The objective of the symposium is to learn from the nation’s best practitioners and create a foundation for Ohio to harness the power of personalized learning. Contact Domenic Paolo for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Last Modified: 5/17/2019 3:20:37 PM