February 9, 2021

Blended Learning Playlists

playlist is a sequence of resources or activities for a student to complete. I’ve been experimenting with the notion of learning pathways or learning playlists for a few years now. Unbeknownst to me, a pandemic would strike in the spring of 2020 and this pedagogical concept would become an easier embrace during this challenging time for teachers. I admit, it’s a paradigm shift, but bare with me through this post.

The image above represents a playlist for students in a high school geometry course. As you can see, the playlist begins by clearly stated learning targets derived from content standards. Choosing the targets, the end destination, is the first order of business when designing your own playlist. The teacher will need to consider the length of time required for students to acquire the concepts included in those targets. Is there a specific length of time that works better than others? In my experience, the longer the playlist, the more likely it is for students to lose their location or their purpose. You’ll have a better understanding of what that means in just a moment. I typically shoot for 10 instructional days.

First, let’s take a look at the research that serves as the foundation for this pedagogical shift.

Author of the book Drive, Dan Pink describes intrinsic motivation as motivation 3.0. This notion is developed from bodies of research around motivation. Dan uncovers several studies that reveal the dangers of if-then rewards, or carrots and sticks. It turns out, carrots and sticks can do serious harm to a student’s desire or motivation to learn. This seems counterintuitive doesn’t it? Education has been employing carrots and sticks for years. Wasn’t Pavlov’s dog offered a reward for behavior? Dan breaks down motivation into extrinsic and intrinsic. One such study including MIT students reveals some truth around carrots and sticks. A group of students were given some games, complex games that involved creativity, concentration, and motor skills. Their performance was incentivized based on three levels of performance. The highest performers would receive the greatest reward. The results were clear. Incentives worked as expected for tasks that required purely mechanical skill. Once the task involved any amount of creativity or critical thinking, rewards led to poorer performance. This study was repeated over and over, even in contexts where monetary rewards would mean more, but the results were the same. Carrots and sticks work for low level tasks that don’t require much thought. But if the task increases in complexity, rewards actually damage performance. As Edward Deci, Richard Ryan, and Richard Koestner explain, ‘Rewards do not undermine people’s intrinsic motivation for dull tasks because there is little or no intrinsic motivation to be undermined.’

Dan uncovers three primary drivers to amplify intrinsic motivation – autonomy, mastery, and purpose. You’ll see these drivers threaded throughout the learning playlists. It’s a misconception to think we design these playlists and set students off on an independent journey hoping they make it to the end. That is not the case. The playlists do involve a healthy measure of autonomy as we allow students to navigate through the playlist at their own place. Whole-group activities are done together as a class. Students have little say in when those are completed, but they do have some control over their independent work. In a traditional model of schooling, there are a number of constants in the learning equation. Time, practice, and assignments are all constants defined by the teacher and applied equally to the students. The teacher decides what assignments to complete, when they are due, the numbers of problems, and more. Learning is the variable in this model. Some students learn it all, some students learn parts of it, some students learn very little. The blended learning playlist flips the script. Time, practice, and assignments become a variable, and learning becomes the constant.

Checkpoints or progress checks are critical to the success of the playlists. If students are never asked for check their progress against a formative assessment, they are never informed of their location, their success, or their next steps in the journey. As you can see, the playlists offer strategically placed checkpoints that are designed to inform students about whether to move forward in the playlist, backward, or stay put. The majority of the independent work in the playlist is computer adaptive, meaning the software adjusts inputs based on student outputs. There is constant feedback provided to the learner. What might take me 18 problems to demonstrate proficiency, might take another learner 12 problems. That personalization is allowed within the system.

John Hattie’s meta-analysis of over 1200 bodies of research on instructional practices is fascinating. This blog isn’t about his research but you can read about how he determined the hinge-point for effect sizes. According to Hattie, 0.40 represents a year’s worth of achievement for a year’s input using that specific strategy. Any strategy with an effective size greater than 0.40 has an influence greater than a year’s worth of growth. 0.80 would represent a strategy that yield’s two year’s worth of growth. 1.20 would represent three years of growth, an incredible influence on student achievement.

Self-assessment and self-efficacy are among the highest influences when it comes to strategies that yield high achievement. Self-assessment is threaded throughout the playlist. Putting students in control of their pace by informing them of their progress through feedback becomes a powerful influence fueling intrinsic motivation. Self-efficacy refers to one’s confidence to complete tasks or exert control over their motivation. Students are in control of their own mastery inside the playlist. They can complete independent work until they demonstrate proficiency. They can retake progress checks, and they get at least two takes on the summative assessment at the end. The clear learning targets, the map of the journey, and the pursuit of mastery all contribute to a greater purpose. Learners become involved in the process advancing towards a specific goal.

What does the teacher do? It’s a mistake to think the teacher sits at the desk with his/her feet up. The teacher is furiously referencing the feedback provided by the adaptive platforms students utilize for independent work. The teacher is also diagnosing misunderstanding or misconceptions provided during whole-group experiences. The teacher uses this information to make decisions about small groups and seating arrangements. The teacher spends a considerable amount of time on a knee or seated at a desk beside students asking questions and listening to gauge understanding.

There is a noteworthy connection between the tasks a teacher chooses to include in the playlist and Bloom’s taxonomy. Computer adaptive platforms have their place in blended learning, but as long as teachers understand their limitations. My whole-group experiences are rich and require intellectual agility in order to complete. These tasks require students to analyze, compare strategies, evaluate work, and create.

The most common concern at this point becomes “do students navigate all playlists at their pace? How do you manage the chaos when students are working on different playlists?” Students move to the next playlist together with their classmates. I never have more than one active playlist at a time. In my experience, this is the best way to do it. What if students aren’t ready to move on? Believe it or not, that rarely happens. Why? The classroom culture transforms to a degree that classmates just don’t allow other classmates to fall behind. If I’m doing my job, analyzing the feedback, and making informed decisions about who to spend time with, and what seating arrangements would maximize students’ strengths, then the gap between the first student and the last student never grows too wide. I’ve done this in the secondary classroom with over 100 students and I’ve never felt bad about moving to the next playlist.

In conclusion, I want to wrap this up with the best representation of equality vs equity that I’ve ever seen. This is relevant to learning playlists because I hope you can see the value in giving students what they need to succeed. This is a theme throughout the playlist. Students are provided what they need to succeed, not equal portions of time, practice, and assignments.

Image Credit: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

July 24, 2020

Power-Up Your Course Organization and Lesson Planning

One of the many lessons learned during the last quarter of the 19-20 school year was how critically important it is to organize your course in a student and family friendly manner. We were all caught off guard by how suddenly we were tossed into an entirely new model of schooling. For many, there just wasn’t enough time to refine course layout, reconsider our folder structures, etc. I hope this post provides you with some inspirational ways to layout your course content this upcoming school year. Let’s not kid ourselves either, reorganizing our courses will only enhance the student experience even if we find ourselves back in a face-face model of schooling.

I really like these samples from two fabulous teachers at Mill Creek Intermediate – Joanna Smith & Tiffany Quade. I used the drop-down to display the inside sections of one of the folders.

Joanna Smith


Tiffany Quade

Need to know what you missed on Tuesday April 28? ☑️

What are we doing this Friday? ☑️

Where do I find the assignment we did last week? ☑️

Want an easy-to-read overview of the week? ☑️

Are there embedded videos showing me how to do this work? ☑️

What are the learning goals for my child this week? ☑️

Continue reading

June 28, 2020

What I Hope Teachers Learn From Our Summer PL Courses

As I imagine many school districts were doing this summer, my district, Berkeley County Schools (WV), unleashed a robust series of courses for teachers to complete over the summer. I had the fortune of being on a small team of three that designed and is currently facilitating the learning. The courses were voluntary. Given the experience everyone was thrust into suddenly last spring, high quality professional learning was a critical priority for BCS this summer. Even though no one knew what to expect for the 20-21 school year, we decided to prioritize a learning experience that would immerse teachers in a model that they could transfer no matter what the 20-21 school year looks like.

We use Schoology in our district so we facilitated the teacher courses through that LMS. We created three courses, beginnerintermediateadvanced. The first task for our teachers was to create a sandbox course they would use to produce the content they would need to complete the assignments in the PD courses. We designed our courses with assignments that required teachers to create, organize, share, capture, and submit evidence in order to receive credit for the assignments. We partnered with Shepherd University to offer our teachers 3-hours of graduate credit for completing all three courses.

According to my count, we have about 30 assignments that are required in order to receive credit for completing all three courses. There are certainly some very explicit outcomes throughout the courses. Several assignments required our teachers to create video content and embed it in their sandbox course. Other assignments required our teachers to create tech-enhanced questions using Schoology’s assessment creator. Our teachers were required to submit evidence of their ability to generate a Microsoft Teams Meeting, invite their students, record a mini lesson, and post the link to that recording in their sandbox course. These are just a few of the explicit outcomes that appeared throughout the course.

There are also a number of implied outcomes that I hope our teachers are aware of as they complete these courses.

At this point, three educators are facilitating learning for over 500 educators. There’s no way we could successfully do this by replicating the traditional face-face model of schooling (or sit-n-get PD) that we have known for over a century. At the end of each course, our teachers are required to submit to a discussion communicating what they learned in the course and how they intend to use what they learned. It’s also an opportunity for our teachers to provide feedback about the course. The response we’ve received so far is overwhelmingly positive, but the most common piece of feedback we receive is in reference to the instructional design.

I hope our teachers recognize the value in outsourcing the transfer of information. Sharon Dove, Sharon Collins and I outsourced the majority of our content by utilizing Youtube videos, Help Support in our various platforms, and we created our own instructional content in video/screencasts. This alone allowed us to personalize path, place, and pace for every participant. The result is each participant’s experience becomes unique. This new model of education will place a new premium on face-face time, it’s important that we reevaluate what we do during that time.



I use this image as part of a presentation on healthy and effective grading practices, but it applies here. The outcomes for the course are the same for everyone, but the experience, the paths to mastery, and even the evidence submitted can involve choices.




I really like this graphic from George Couros:

From George Couros


It makes so many connections to the overall experience our learners have had during these courses. There are many school contexts represented in our courses, spanning from Prek-12.






I hope teachers realize the pedagogical connections to their own courses. Many teachers commented about the value of utilizing video or audio in directions, for example. Multimodal directions must become routine for all educators. It reminded me of Holly Clark’s new post at The Infused Classroom




I hope teachers recognize what they could do with face-face time. For example, we chose to outsource the bulk of our instruction or the transfer of information. For the purposes of our courses, we didn’t have to include any whole-group experiences, though our teachers will certainly want to do that to some degree. I hope they realize what they could do during that time if they were liberated from delivering content or providing instruction. During the summer courses for teachers, my face-face time with learners has been spent diagnosing misunderstandings, brainstorming practical applications to their specific school contexts, and giving feedback on work submitted by our learners. That’s purposeful use of the most valuable time we have with our learners, and that represents a learner-centered step in instructional innovation.

Leave a comment if this has stirred some thought about the pedagogical impacts of this new model of schooling.

Posted with permission

Posted with permission

Posted with permission

One of the assignments in the course was to use a multimedia tool we have available to us through MyVRSpot, and create a class newsletter to keep families up to date on what’s happening. I loved this example and received permission to share.

June 4, 2020

Developing Metacognition & Executive Functioning

I completely agree with Tiffany Wycoff’s recent response in tweet:

This is the perfect moment to leap forward and I believe teachers have acquired a tremendous amount of new skill that may serve them well as they move towards a learner-centered model. Let us be careful to provide support, not just technical support, but pedagogical support as we navigate these new waters.

As teachers begin to shift the ways they lay out content, provide instruction, curate student work, provide feedback, and measure learning, it is ever more important to be intentional about the ways in which we develop metacognition and executive functioning skills.

“The ability to think about what we are learning, how we are learning, what we want to learn in the future are important skills that must be explicitly taught in classrooms.” – Catlin Tucker
How can teachers incorporate intentional opportunities for kids to reflect on and monitor metacognition and executive functioning skills? If schools begin in a remote setting, it’s going to be critical that we provide our students real opportunities to talk about, reflect on, monitor, and track progress across skills like time management, task initiation, persistence, and more. 
*Flipgrid – Include a weekly topic designed to allow students an honest place to reflect on how they’re learning, whether their phone was a distraction, how they mitigated distractions, the role their earbuds play in learning, etc.
*A simple page in a notebook designed to allow students to place a point on a number line tracking progress across any skill.
*A correlation chart
*A discussion post – collect video or audio responses
*SMART Goal Setting
*End of the week exit ticket (Google Form, Microsoft Form, etc)
*Self-assessment doc
Click here for a Word version of the template below. Click here for a Google Doc version of the template below.
I think you’ll like this Powerpoint/Slides/Keynote template. I created templates for the six middle schools, but they can be easily edited to reflect any of the BCS schools. Click here to download the Powerpoint templates yourself.
March 27, 2020

The MOST Valuable Time

I found myself considering recently, in reflection about this journey into distance learning that we’re experiencing right now, what is the most valuable portion of the learning cycle? If you’re reading this, you are most certainly aware that many teachers are video conferencing with their students using a number of possible solutions available to educators right now. I began to consider how unrealistic it might be for a secondary educator to video conference with his/her students everyday. Not that I’m trying to indict anyone who may be doing so, but I tried to consider the nightmare of scheduling such times with secondary students who have 6-7 additional classes on their schedule. So in reflection, I thought of all the time in a learning cycle, what portions might be considered the most valuable time? This is a question I’ve proposed during blended learning trainings I’ve facilitated before, and I believe it can serve us even now. Let’s lay out a typical, albeit generic, learning cycle for students.

  • Teacher provides some instruction.
  • Students complete a learning experience related to the previous instruction.
  • Teacher reviews the student work, provides feedback, diagnoses misunderstandings, offers remediation.
  • Cycle repeats.

This is certainly a very general framework and is not intended to represent all classrooms at all. But in general, I imagine most classrooms loosely follow a repetition of a very similar cycle that often concludes with a test or exam of some sort before everything starts over.

I believe education will experience some tremendous changes once school does resume again. Perhaps we won’t see the fruit of those changes until the ’20-21 school year begins, but I believe we will no longer see the schools many walked out of just a few weeks ago. One consideration I believe all secondary teachers will begin to make is this: If my instruction has been outsourced to Google, Youtube, etc. where does that leave me? I would propose that the most valuable portion of teachers’ time, especially during distance learning, might be the portion of the learning cycle where teachers review student work, look at data, provide feedback, diagnose misunderstandings, and offer remediation and enrichment. This isn’t rocket science and many may read this and say “I’ve always felt that way, Derek.” I would propose that if you’re engaging your students in video conferencing, leave the instruction to Google, Youtube, your online textbook, etc. I believe we’re in the midst of a shift from Masters of Content to Managers of Learning.

Two of my favorite tools are Nearpod and Desmos Activities. I love the platforms both of these education companies utilize and I think they can provide a lot of merit for distance learning. Given the proposal I made in the last paragraph, how could teachers utilize tools like these to provide instruction, offer a learning experience, and review student work, give feedback, diagnose student thinking, etc.? When considering when to engage my students in a video conference where we might have real conversation that is tougher to manifest digitally, I would suggest letting your video recordings, your own screencasts, Google, Youtube, or Khan Academy provide the instruction necessary. Lay out the learning experience for your students. Then engage in a video conference to offer the component of learning that I believe is most human and most valuable. Engage your students in real conversation, through a video conference, to review student work samples you’ve previously collected, share data revealed by your learning platforms, diagnose misconceptions, correct mistakes, highlight divergent thinking, and have thought-provoking questions on hand that allow you some insight into your students’ thinking.

November 14, 2019

Desmos Activities in the Elementary Class

I’ve been a fan of the Desmos activity platform for quite a while. If you’re teaching math and don’t know about it, stop reading and check it out now at teacher.desmos.com. I love the transparency the Desmos team places on their philosophy of learning math. I’ve read Dan Meyer’s blog posts about the thought invested into designing the platform and how it relates to how they believe math instruction could look and sound for students today. This post on orchestrating more productive math discussions is great! I often use this post on how Desmos designs learning activities, because it provides a good context for math teachers to reflect on their own practices.

It’s no secret that most of the content the Desmos team releases is designed for secondary students and teachers. If you glance at their teacher webpage, you’ll find it difficult to locate lessons for anyone under grade 6 or 7. The search bar on the teacher page only yields activities that have been approved or reviewed by the Desmos team. The platform, though, is free to use and if used effectively can result in quality learning experiences for younger learners. I’ve been working with a 3rd grade teacher during his 90-minute math block. I used the learning platform to design an experience his kids could use to review for a test they’re having the next day. The experience would be the first whole-group experience his kids have had with a Desmos activity. Mr. Shchurtz and I decided to utilize the pacing feature in the platform to move his students together, slide by slide, for most of the activity, since it was their first experience with it.

I can’t say enough about how engaged his learners were throughout the experience. We mirrored Mr. Schurtz’s Ipad to the projector through the whole lesson. I supported Mr. Schurtz in planning the activity, meaning we sat and looked at each slide trying to anticipate student responses, which slides would require a pause to interject instruction or support, and which sections we could allow students to work at their own pace.

During the experience, I quickly noted how the students responded to seeing their work projected on the board. Their motivation and attention skyrocketed! Even Mr. Schurtz made a statement about it during the activity. It was as if their work had more meaning knowing it was being shared with a wider audience. It’s worth noting, the Desmos learning platform allows a teacher to anonymize names when displaying student work, and you also don’t have to display the work at all.

As students draw or input their work on a slide, the teacher can view the work in nearly-live fashion. Mr. Schurtz noticed one student’s creativity when solving a problem, so he used the platform’s pause feature to pause everyone’s work simultaneously. Next, Mr. Schurtz asked Liam to explain his work to the class. You can view Liam’s explanation and the classes response here.

I left the experience encouraged by the rich conversation and the depth of thinking that was required of the students. It was almost as if the rigor of thought or the effort that was required was disguised as something fun.


October 23, 2019

Equal vs Equitable

Full transparency here… Rick Wormeli wrote the book Fair Isn’t Always Equal and it is excellent! It is on a must-read list for many educators, including this one. I’ve recently put a lot of thought and consideration into the notions of fairequal, and equitable and the roles they play in learning design. I am writing to share my context with other educators. My role in education has recently allowed me to jump back into the design of a learning pathway for a classroom of students. Honestly, I miss this. Before I left full-time teaching in a classroom setting, I was experimenting with a better way to design learning experiences that differentiate for my kids.

Several years ago, I began a relentless pursuit to liberate my students from this conveyor belt of learning that is one-size-fits-all (or is it none?). Prior to increasing my capacity and skill with technology, this was a task that seemed out of reach to me. The current model of schooling still restricts my students and teachers to arbitrary calendar dates, meaning that all students have to attend school for 180 days before they can advance. Even though no one really knows how long it will take any one student to learn x, y, and z, I could still innovate within the constraints of the calendar. As a math teacher, the conveyor belt of learning meant that all kids would receive equal time for instruction, equal time for practice, equal numbers of problems to practice, and equal number of days to learn before providing evidence in equal number of ways. There was a time in this journey that I realized that I didn’t have to force this level of uniformity onto my students any longer. As Rick says, I will always be fair, but I will rarely be equal. To be clear, the conveyor belt sends several messages to students. To some, it says if you can’t keep up, sorry. I don’t want to imply that all teachers feel this way, but doesn’t that message also say it is more convenient for me to plan this way, so keep up. For others, the message says I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wallow in mediocrity even though you’re ready to move on.

My journey began to shift when I realized I could leverage technology to better respond to my students and that response would greatly impact my instructional design. The pathway you see laid out in the image above represents an experience that embraces the understanding that all kids learn at different rates with various levels of support.

One of the more enlightening experiences I had along this journey came when I realized I could leverage technology to provide students a number of practice opportunities that reflected what they needed in order to demonstrate proficiency. No longer were all of my students receiving the same 25 practice problems on the same night. I also recalled nightmarish experiences when I would pass out tests on test-days and cringe when I got to a few desks of students I knew were not ready for this test. Those days are in the past. I could get into the nuts of bolts of that learning pathway, how students navigate it, the face-to-face learning experiences (whole group and small group) vs the self-paced ones, the role the formative practice plays and how it impacts student ownership, autonomy, and self-assessment. Not to mention the depth of learning, the mental dexterity required to complete some of the experiences, and the metacognition included in reflective opportunities along the way. But I want to hone in on the grip that fairness has on so many classrooms.

I fear too many classrooms are focused on being equal with students, in the interest of fair practice. But let’s be clear about equality.

Image Credit: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

What we really want in our classrooms is equitable and responsive teaching. Being fair and equitable is giving kids unique and specific supports so that all students have an opportunity to succeed, or learn. That means we have a responsibility to provide those supports when possible. So what practices fly in the face of equity? Consider whether your own instruction rides on a conveyor belt of one-size-fits-none instruction. Let’s consider what equitable grading practices look like. Are our grading practices handcuffed by equality? I know some teachers that allow redos or reassessment in their class, for example. Hats off to those teachers for recognizing the value of iterations in learning, something that applies to nearly every single profession in the world. But, in the interest of being equal with all students, teachers give partial credit to the second or third iteration or redo. The most typical response here is this practice ensures fairness to those students who got it the first time. Are we punishing students for learning at a different rate than we’re teaching?

I appreciate you reading this far. After some recent work in a classroom, I began to reflect on fairness, equality, and equitable teaching. The pathway I provided represents just one example of how instruction can be designed and innovated in ways that provide students healthy and equitable experiences. I think it also points to the greater world in which we live. If teachers still consider themselves the master of content in their class, they’ve been outsourced by Youtube and Google. We’ve got to start providing students opportunities to learn how to learn. That doesn’t mean they do so in the absence of a teacher, but it does mean the role of the teacher has to change from delivering content to managing student learning. Are we providing kids opportunities to inquire, filter information, and apply it in authentic ways? Think about how much learning we omit because we hold students hostage to arbitrary timelines.

November 2, 2018

Does the word relationships indicate an impossible teaching nirvana?


One of my favorite edu-speakers is Todd Whitaker. He often says “If you want to change student behavior, you need to start by changing adult behavior.” Many schools begin the year chanting the mantra of relationships. Some even develop a relationship theme or move from a behavior policy to a relationship policy. While those are certainly moves in the right direction, I still fear many teachers simply regard this as a shift away from student responsibility. I wonder if they feel threatened by the language that suggests some impossible teaching nirvana, a nirvana that fails to address “Barry” that is seated in the back breaking pencils. In reality, we need reminded that students don’t want dramatic displays of affection or one-off events to build relationships on day one. They don’t want our personal life poured out, they don’t want a social media connection, and they don’t want to stop by for tea or coffee. We need to remember the drip effect. It’s the steady, daily acts of care that yield the largest gains. It’s the high five in the hallway, the eye contact as we walk through the cafeteria, the 20-second conversation by the busses, the positive phone call home, or the handwritten note dropped in a locker.

Image from @SteeleThoughts

As adults, we generally steer clear of people who want an instant relationship. Imagine the person you meet in the grocery store line that invites you and your spouse on a 7-day cruise to the Bahamas. Too much too soon is awkward! Relationships grow with steady drips, not in a hour-long assembly or one lesson involving paint and slime. In the adult world, it’s the kind word at the door as you enter school or the thinking of you text message that strengthens a positive relationship. Those same strategies work with kids.

Great teachers invest emotional currency on purpose. They know the smiley face they put on that paper, or the stamp they stick on a child’s hand, or the game they stayed late for is a worthy deposit of emotional currency. That currency can be cashed in to avert a crisis or deescalate a tense situation. Great teachers know that the toughest students may have one person at their school that they’ll talk to when things go from bad to worse, and that one person is me.

June 12, 2018

I had to discipline, now how do I recover the relationship?

I’ve been blessed with some opportunities to speak and write about prevention.  It’s true, the best classroom management strategies are founded on prevention.  Stop the behavior before it starts.  I fully endorse the writing of handwritten notes.  I’ve blogged and spoke a lot about my 3-pronged approach during the first week of school.  Seek out those tough kids like a shark.  Find something positive during the first week of school.  Recognize it publicly, write a handwritten note, make a phone call home, hold a short conversation somewhere outside the classroom, etc.  There are a number of ways you can make positive contacts with tough kids during the first week of school.  The entire philosophy of SAMS and COSTCO are built on positive touches with customers.  Research suggests that it takes 7 positive contacts for a customer to return.  This post is intended to provide support to those teachers who may or may not have done that, but still have to deal with what we all may face: I still had to discipline that kid.  I would never advocate against the use of discipline.  I’m a big supporter of restorative practices, but I know in all schools, we still have to support teachers who had to utilize a form of discipline.  In the case where we’ve invested a lot of time and energy into a student, it can be a real challenge to recover a relationship once we’ve had to resort to a form of discipline.

So let me lay out a common scenario: Jared was a tough student last year so you anticipated him being a tough student this year when you noticed him show up on your roster over the summer.  You invested in positive tools that seemed to yield some effective response in Jared.  He seems to be putting forth more effort for you in your class.  The investment you made in connecting with Jared’s heart seems to have paid off.  For some unknown reason (there’s almost always a reason, recognize the feedback), Jared has a terrible day in your class.  Perhaps he even has another terrible day tomorrow.  Whatever the case may be, you have to report Jared to administration and schedule a meeting.  Know this, despite the magnitude of your efforts to turn Jared around early in the year, the relationship between you and Jared is damaged.  That’s not to say you did anything wrong.  That’s not an indictment on your use of discipline.  It’s just a fact.  The relationship is surely to be damaged.  It’s irresponsible for us to expect Jared to return to our class with a renewed spirit, ready to reengage in learning with a respectful attitude.  That would be nice wouldn’t it?  See, some kids may do that.  I’m not talking about those kids.  If you’re reading this and can’t seem to recognize which kids I’m talking about, consider yourself fortunate to have worked with a different kind of student.

In my position as an administrator, I’ve had the privilege of working with teachers and spending time in other classrooms.  I didn’t have these opportunities as a classroom teacher.  Since then, I’ve noticed that a lot of teachers may make an effort to invest in preventative strategies, but a lot of teachers still struggle when it comes to recovering, renewing, and restoring a relationship that may be damaged after discipline occurs.  I created the following strategy to help inspire and guide teachers in restoring positive relationships with kids.


June 6, 2018

You Want Me to Be LESS Human?

The high schools in my county are undergoing a full 1:1 implementation next school year. The lower grade levels are already 1:1.  You want me to be LESS human?  Isn’t that a common concern when teachers are suddenly facing a huge influx of devices?  I see it on teachers’ faces and you can likely hear it in the hallways after faculty meetings.  It’s a common misconception and one that needs addressed via high quality learning experiences for teachers.

I like taking the example Sal Khan, of Khan Academy, gives us in a popular Youtube video.  He explains that even he wouldn’t want his own children sitting in front of a computer all day with little support from a teacher.  It’s true, Khan Academy does offer that experience to children in third world countries who lack the support of a trained professional.  But, the benefit of blending instruction through the use of technology is really about making teachers more human.

I often use myself as an example.  Years ago I spent x number of minutes each week calling out correct answers to homework.  I used the trade & grade method.  I passed out red pens, called out answers to homework problems, had the students right a percentage on the top of the paper, turn it in, input grades, and begin class. Even if I gave homework twice a week, that’s still a large chunk of time that really isn’t very valuable. I replaced that time with a lot more time spent down on a knee with groups of students or one student working directly with them as they worked out problems. A lot of my whole-group instruction (I used to have students take notes, replaced that too) became more effective small group instruction.  It’s amazing how much better students listen if you’re instructing a group of 5 rather than a group of 25.

Here’s a great workshop for teachers: “Close your eyes and visualize a snapshot of time in your class in any given week. I want that snapshot to be the time that you would consider the HIGHEST quality in terms of learning. If you could press pause at any given moment, what would your moment be?” What follows is an excellent discussion.  Ask teachers to describe that moment in detail.  What is the teacher doing?  What are the students doing?  What does the room sound like?  Who is speaking most?  You can even follow that conversation with “what would your worst moment be?” and discuss that. Blended learning is really all about making teachers MORE human, not LESS human. Standing up front of a class reading a powerpoint while students are passively writing down notes isn’t high quality time in terms of learning. It MAY be necessary but it’s not high quality. Blended learning is taking the highest quality time and making more of it.

Finally, professional learning should really focus on driving instructional time up Bloom’s ladder.  Replacing low quality time with students should yield more frequent learning in the upper levels of Bloom’s, something I found very difficult prior to blending effectively. – Derek