The Myth of Easy

I wish I had a hundred dollars for every time a teacher said to me, “I just need a picture of what 21st Century learning looks like in Language Arts”…or “Science”…or”fill in the blank with your favorite content area”. Everyone, everywhere is trying to wrap their brain around what a 21st Century classroom looks like, feels like and sounds like. How is it different from the 20th Century classroom? We all need to be asking that question. We all need to be answering that question. But it isn’t easy. In fact, easy is a myth.

Over the past six years, I’ve traipsed over, under and around, looking to sharpen my understanding of 21st Century learning… my Diigo bookmarks will undoubtedly provide you with a pretty good picture of my travels. Not content with the belief that 21st Century learning is all about technology, I’ve logged in hundreds of hours stomping through the writings of Will Richardson, Sheryl Nussbaum Beach, Daniel Pink, Howard Gardner, Chris Lehman, David Warlick, Kim Cofino, Sir Kenneth Robinson, Ira Socol, Peter Pappas…and on and on and on. (Some might call it an obsession; I prefer to call it passion.)

So what have I discovered? (Heads up: I don’t think you’re going to like my answer.) I’ve discovered that we need to look beyond the easy answer…the pat answer…the I don’t have time to dig any deeper answer. My friend Sheryl Nussbaum Beach will tell you that you can’t give away what you don’t own…and she’s right. If I’m going to truly understand what it means to be a learner in the 21st Century, then I’m going to have to put on my running shoes ‘cuz this is a marathon, folks…and if we’re doing it right, we’re going to get sweaty.

But we’ve got to begin some place, right? Below you’ll find some of my favorite resources I’ve discovered while on this journey. Click on the links…and the links that take you to other links. (Or find your own cool links.) Read them. Reflect on them. Allow yourself to learn, unlearn and relearn. (Toffler) Then, come back here and share your growing understanding of 21st Century learning by listing exactly five characteristics of a 21st Century classroom, teacher and/or student. Only five. Can you do it? Remember…there’s no easy button.

Diane Rhoten
My P.L.E.
Four Negotiables
The 21st Century Educator
The 21st Century Learner
The 21st Century Classroom
Toolbelt Theory

On Having a Big, Fat Mouth

Note: Click on highlighted white links to learn more about my rich resources.

Uh, oh…I think I’m in trouble. Whenever I “find” my voice (as if it was lost), I recognize I’ve increased the likelihood that I’ll have to put up or shut up…and that um, scares me. Yesterday, I tweeted this out:

That’s a pretty bold statement, particularly for a lifetime people-pleaser like me. It was my good friend, M.E. Steele-Pierce that called me out on it when she tweeted:

“@charrod Eager to see the BYOL post. ~~ Is the “you” in “you’re not ready” the teacher or the student?”

My big, fat mouth once again took over and I replied to M.E.:
@steelepierce “administrators, teachers, students…”

Sensing I had perhaps been a bit too bold, I backpeddled a bit and sent a new tweet to M.E.:
@steelepierce Would like to change what I said before…the “you” refers to admins and teachers…students will follow suit…

To which she replied:
@charrod Looking forward to convo about the BYOL question…what does ready require? who goes first?

Like I said…put up or shut up, right? So, okay…here goes…

We launched our BYOL in January 2011 but not before six very intense, challenging months of planning and preparation. During that time, we spent incredible amounts of time working with teachers, students and parents to help shift some very long-held beliefs about what it means to learn in the 21st Century. Here is some of the work we did to prepare for the BYOL:

•Put 40 teachers and administrators through Powerful Learning Practice with Sheryl Nussbaum Beach and Will Richardson (2009-2011)
•Brought Sheryl into our district to work with middle school teachers for a day
•Designed a year-long professional development plan that focused on personal learning networks, the compelling case for change, attitudes & beliefs about the needs of students and the nature of 21st Century learning, TPCK and 21st Centurizing Your Classroom
•Created an online community to share ideas, resources, content (Ning)
•Adopted a Digital Citizenship curriculum
•Invited expert voices from other BYOL schools to share their experiences

•Organized a tech camp
•Held tech workshops
•Invited students to “Lunch with the Principal”
•Had them share their work at the technology showcase
•Created a beginning tool box

•Established a Parent Voice group
•Held tech workshops
•Scheduled three meetings: Overview of project, Choosing Your Device, Learning Showcase
•Invited them to the tech camp
•Skyped with Christian Long to share his vision of learning in the 21st Century

We also adopted Google Apps for Education and Schoology to create cloud-based spaces for our teachers and students.

I’m sure there is more but you get the point; we did a great deal of front loading before jumping into something so very large…and important. For me, this was so much more than simply putting devices into the hands of students. It was and continues to be about shifting the very nature of teaching and learning. It’s about the kids owning the learning. It’s about teaching students to choose tools wisely to assist them on their learning journey. It’s about collaborating and connecting with people from your immediate spaces and beyond…whenever and wherever. It’s about creating artifacts that make the world a better place. It’s about opening doors to authentic, powerful learning opportunities.

My advice to districts considering a BYOL? I strongly encourage districts to step back and think first about laying a foundation for administrators and teachers…helping them to understand the reasons for the changes; immersing them in personal learning networks; becoming comfortable and fluent with the technology. That won’t guarantee a successful BYOL program but it certainly lays some important groundwork for transforming learning. When you experience networked, passion-based learning firsthand, you will truly begin to understand what it means to learn.

Are we done? Have we “arrived”? Oh, my no. We knew this was just the beginning; in fact, the next phase promises to be even more work as we continue to dig more deeply into learning and try to solve for the equity issue. . (A second post is in order.) We expanded the BYOL to 8th grade this year and will open it up to grades 9-12 next year. This is a marathon, folks and while I may be a bit out of shape, I have a healthy dose of determination and hope…

oh, and a big, fat mouth.

Opening Doors

“How do you start personalizing instruction in your classroom?”

This is the question Whitney Hoffman asked in her post on Edutopia…and here is my response:

Hmmm…this one made me dig deeper into the ideas of differentiation, personalized instruction and individualization. While there is certainly some overlap here, I think it behooves us to tease out the ways in which they are different but perhaps more importantly, to consider the lens from which we view these ideas.

I started with the National Educational Technology Plan:

“Throughout this plan, we use the following definitions: Individualization refers to instruction that is paced to the learning needs of different learners. Learning goals are the same for all students, but students can progress through the material at different speeds according to their learning needs. For example, students might take longer to progress through a given topic, skip topics that cover information they already know, or repeat topics they need more help on.

Differentiation refers to instruction that is tailored to the learning preferences of different learners. Learning goals are the same for all students, but the method or approach of instruction varies according to the preferences of each student or what research has found works best for students like them.

Personalization refers to instruction that is paced to learning needs, tailored to learning preferences, and tailored to the specific interests of different learners. In an environment that is fully personalized, the learning objectives and content as well as the method and pace may all vary (so personalization encompasses differentiation and individualization).”

This shines some light on the differences between individualization, differentiation and personalization but honestly I find myself struggling; struggling because they all tend to focus on the teaching not the learning. All of them still perpetuate a teacher-directed classroom vs a student-centered classroom.

In my humble, still growing opinion, we should be talking about personalized learning and the only way for teachers to understand, truly understand, personalized learning in the 21st Century is to be a networked learner because something dramatic and powerful happens when teachers immerse themselves in networked spaces; a vast array of doors are opened… by the learner.

So, to answer your question, Whitney, I wouldn’t begin by personalizing the instruction, I would…

•grow my own powerful personal learning network to include uplifting, thought-provoking people, resources and ideas
•use the vast array of technology tools to help me connect and learn with these people, resources and ideas

and then…then…I would…

•create spaces for my students that permit them to create their own spaces for personalized learning to occur and I would be there to guide and support them in their explorations. It requires refocusing on learning…not teaching. (The instructional practices will be driven by the learning.)

Just some beginning thoughts…

Thanking Bruce

redwoodsA post…or more likely a series of posts…have been forming in my head regarding our BYOL project but for some reason, I just couldn’t put fingers to the keys. (Versus pencil to the paper.) I think it’s because it’s so big…no, make that enormous. A BYOL…Bring Your Own Laptop project…with 559 seventh graders, no less. I really wish I had kept a journal so I could clearly remember what I was thinking on this day one year ago. I do remember excitement…and loads of enthusiasm born out of my deep passion for finding new ways to help students learn. It was a post by the extraordinary Bruce Dixon, founder of AALF (Anytime, Anywhere Learning) that prompted me to begin the slow process of assimilating all of the thoughts I had about our adventure this past year. You can read his post here but essentially he brings up some really good, thoughtful questions and concerns about Bring Your Own Laptop/Device programs; concerns like equity, cost for parents, how to support the devices. You can also read my response to him which I confess I spent far too little time developing.

I was most compelled by Bruce’s statement:

“The principles on which AALF was founded and on which we have given advice for nearly 15 years still apply. At all times, our priority must be to ensure any 1:1 program provides for ALL students and can be sustained in the long-term and not just dependent on the whims and fancies of political, technological and policy leadership.”

He is so right…which is why our district would never have been able to support a true 1:1 laptop program. We have spent the past six years trying to find a way to make it happen; to put a device into every high school students’ hands but it simply was never going to BE. Not only could we not afford to purchase a device for every student but the ongoing support of the devices would ultimately be our downfall. There has to be a point at which you stop the madness and consider other options because it’s for sure that our students’ inability to have access to technology 24/7 was eventually going to catch up with them. And it was at that point, I remember it distinctly, that we made the decision to go the way of BYOL.

Nervous and acutely aware that we were jumping into uncharted territory in our neck of the world, we started planning…and planning…and planning. When people ask me the number one consideration for implementing a BYOL program, I say, without hesitation, “professional development.” No, wait, let me say it again…professional development…deep, focused professional development; the kind that shifts an entire culture of learning. It cannot be stated often or loudly enough that it isn’t simply about letting the students lug their laptop to school; it is about developing a new learning ecosystem. (Did I mention this was enormous?)

In the next several weeks, I will continue to tease out all of the salient points about our journey and share them with you on this blog. We’re expanding the program to include all 7th and 8th graders for the 2011-2012 school year, with plans to go to the high school the following year; obviously, we have much more work ahead of us, which I never, ever doubted. This IS our work…our ongoing process of trying to figure out what it means to learn in a time of such incredibly change.

Oh yeah…my sincere “thanks” to Bruce Dixon for prompting me to sit down and begin making sense of the swirling mass inside my head.

On Becoming a Finder

Single red tulup in a field of yellows

Over the past few years, I have made a subtle, yet powerful shift in my thinking; instead of being a “seeker”, always looking for things, I have become a “finder”. This has opened me up to some of the deepest learning of my 49 years on this planet. So, with the idea of being a “finder” in mind, I logged onto my Diigo account and typed in tags such as “AHA”, “Powerful” and “WOW”. (My tagging skills are not fully developed, yet somehow in tune with my life as a finder.) The “finds” seemed to rest neatly in the “for administrator” category, so below are a few gems for administrators…or anyone interested in re-imagining learning in a time where it is no longer optional to do so. Enjoy!

Shift to the Future: Stephanie’s First Day of School in 2020
Shift to the Future: Tyler’s Loving School in 2016
The Principal Center – The best in professional practice for school leaders
Should We Shrink Wrap Our School Libraries? | Powerful Learning Practice
Flip This Library: School Libraries Need a Revolution
Tech Transformation: Teachers and Principals as Lead Learners
Connected Principals and its five Guiding Principles « 21k12
Technology Powered Meetings
Stop Meeting and Start Connecting and Sharing
The Four Negotiables of Student-Centered Learning