Sunday, November 27, 2011

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...

Friday, November 25, 2011

On Having a Big, Fat Mouth

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, 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:



  • 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.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Chosen Words

The words found below arrived in my email box yesterday; they were forwarded to me by our middle school principal. The author? A 13 year old named Caroline. Caroline is a participant in our BYOL pilot project which allows 7th grade students to bring their personal computing device to school. Launch of this incredible project occurred four short weeks ago and while we have a long journey ahead of us, Caroline's words speak volumes about the work we've done to arrive at this place. I will restrain myself from commenting...for the words can be read and re-read by anyone lucky enough to have happened upon this post.

Dear Mrs. Adams,

Thank you so much for launching the laptop program. I think that this program has brought so much to Nagel. It has changed the look and feel of our classrooms, learning, and the overall morale at Nagel. I am so lucky to be one of the students involved in such a wonderful setting.

The PPL project has definitely had an impact on everything that has happened at Nagel. I think that it is so neat to walk into a classroom and instead of taking a paper and pencil quiz, we can take it on Quia. I am really glad that you and everyone else involved with the technology in our district has tackled this project and have persisted all the way through. In the end, things came together and are working out great. I think that it is really awesome to see kids interested in their learning and participating more. Students are undeniably more active in their studies and want to learn. All of the digital tools have really benefited and made a difference in our learning. Schoology, Symbaloo, Skype, Wikispaces, Twiducate, and all of the other devices are making an impact, and I think that that is what it is all about.

The biggest mission in this whole project was to provide students with more access to technology and create a classroom that models 21st century learning. I think that the PPL Project has done just that, and more. It has not only taught us what 21st century learning is and given kids a chance to have a lot more access to computers, but while doing this has added much needed responsibility to the 7th graders at Nagel. We have taken on this project and I believe we have delivered the results wanted. We have become active in our learning and I think that everyone is realizing the difference that can be made with the laptops. Before starting this program I didn't know what a 21st century classroom was, and now I know, and I think it's so cool that we get to represent one. Everyday students are gaining knowledge on different tools to help us in today's society and people are watching us to see how we are doing it. The better this project goes, the more schools that may participate. I like knowing that we are being watched and need to perform for others. The challenge for us now is to make this all come together and for everything to work out, which I believe it has so far.

Thanks again for helping create this wonderful project. In my mind and I'm sure many others it is a very large accomplishment to allow and successfully manage such an amazing task of having 7th graders bring in and care for their own laptops. I am so lucky to be apart of this and can't wait to see how the rest of the year will play out.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Focus: Student Empowerment

Four classrooms. Four teachers. Hundreds of students. 118 devices. In the spirit of transparency, what, if anything is changing in these classrooms? To the teachers? The students? The learning? Isn’t that what this is all about? Shouldn’t we be in search of the answers to those questions?

As teacher Beth Lewis states, “In a profession as challenging as teaching, honest self-reflection is key.” So, in the spirit of transparency, the four teachers I’m working with are chronicling their journey; you can climb inside their heads here, here, here and here… It is from reading their words that I know they are open to the ideas of shifting their pedagogies and re-imagining what learning looks like in a 21st Century classroom. I so appreciate their willingness to share their learning. As a wise person once said, “When we make our learning transparent, we become teachers.”

But what about the students? Isn’t the need to be transparent equally as important? I find myself wondering how having the tools accessible at all times has changed learning in those classrooms. Certainly, it has a lot to do with student engagement. Recently, I had the opportunity to spend about an hour in both Sherry’s and Tricia’s classrooms and I can tell you that during those two hours, every single student was completely, utterly engaged in their work. Not a single student was “chillaxing” or worse yet, sleeping. Yes, this is a step in the right direction.

But I’m really interested in digging deeper; in finding out what it looks like when the students own the learning. I see glimpses of this in each of the classrooms, like in Megan’s third grade classroom where each student has access to an iTouch. Megan has fostered a “take control of your own learning” attitude and is slowly, slowly encouraging her students to be true independent thinkers, problem solvers and innovators. This is the sweet spot; the place where true, authentic learning happens…where students are engaged, empowered and impassioned...where learning is transformative.

So, for the remainder of the year, it is through that lens that I will focus my attention. How does having access to these tools enable students to take control of their own learning? How do these tools awaken the desire to learn; where learning isn’t something that is done to the students but something that originates deep inside each of them? In my next post, I’ll share some of the observations, reflections and work gleaned from the students themselves. I cannot wait…

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Piloting Your Own Plane

"Students must be encouraged to become 'pilots',
not 'passengers' in their educational journey."
~Kevin Kearney

Look, let's be clear; I don't have all the answers. And as I continue down this road with Megan and her wonderfully curious, always brilliant students, some thoughts are beginning to crystallize; but as so often happens in life, these thoughts are followed by more questions.

Take for instance this thought:

Wow, put these iTouches in the hands of kids and they have almost instantaneous access to information. That's what we want. Information is no longer locked away in a library. It was so unbelievably cool to watch those children explore the weather app and Google Maps and the clock feature. They were fascinated by the ability to use their geography skills to locate the most recent weather report for a specific location and they found their homes using Google Earth. One student said he woke up that morning excited because they were going to use the iTouches. Very cool.

Later, much later, though, little thoughts started niggling at my brain. What do we want our children to be doing in a 21st Century classroom? How can we be sure that they're learning something they couldn't learn without the technology? Are they merely consuming information or does the technology allow them to produce content? Are they engaging in authentic tasks that mirror real life situations? Because that's what a 21st Century classroom should look least to me.

So, I think...I think... that the answer to whether or not the iTouch is the right tool needs to be observed from this lens. And just in case I start running out of questions (doubtful), here are some others to help keep me grounded in what is most important:

~Does this tool promote deeper learning?
~Is it worth the money?
~Is there another tool that will help students learn better?
~What exactly changes when the students have access to these tools?

Yep, I definitely don't have all the answers. But I do know one thing for sure; as we explore this uncharted territory, we must never lose sight of who should own the learning. In doing so, in making them pilots instead of passengers as Kevin Kearney so eloquently stated, we will better prepare them for a future not yet articulated...not yet known.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

Shining the Light

"Do not be excited by the light of technology.
Instead, be excited by what we can shine light on,
with and because of technology."
David Warlick

Along with the work I'm doing with Megan, I will be working with three high school teachers who submitted proposals for our "Re-imagining the 21st Century Classroom" project. Tricia Buck, English teacher; Sherry Amorocho, Spanish teacher; and David Lunn, English teacher will each receive 30 netbooks to use with their students. The purpose of this initiative is to begin to look more deeply at how technology can be used to support and enhance student learning, as well as prepare them for a rapidly changing future. Lofty goals? You bet and it's about time!

Last week, David and I had our second meeting to try to wrap our brains around a completely unknown process. One of the most important qualities David possesses, in my opinion, is his openness to change. He has been teaching for three years and describes teaching as "trial by fire". Yep...that's for sure. But the rewards are so incredibly rich and transformative.

I shared the names of some blogs by other high school English teachers and he set up an RSS feed reader to capture his learning and build his personal learning network. We talked about many things throughout our hour together. If there is any message I'm trying to get out to the teachers I work with in my district, it's to never start with the technology when designing experiences; rather start with the students, the content, the objectives.

David started a blog, and in his post, David reflects on our conversation:

"Yesterday I met with Cary Harrod. Something that she said really stuck with me. This is a loose quotation. "Don't think about how you will use technology, but think about the content goals first and then find ways in which technology can enhance it." Or something like that. I don't want the use of technology in my classroom to be just for the sake of it. I want real collaboration to take place. I want real creativity to take place. I want real thinking to take place. I want real learning to take place."

I would give anything to hear those words from all teachers. Often, we become so enamored with the technology, we forget about the important "stuff" and end up with projects that lack substance and meaning. Carolyn Foote says, "It isn't about the tools, but is is about what stories inside of our students that the tools can unleash." I love that.

We need to ask ourselves if we even know our students' stories. Does the work we give our students require them to find connections to who they are and the content we're introducing in class? Do they have opportunities to share those stories with their classmates, as well as others from around the world? And if not, why not?

Needless to say, I am looking forward to making this journey with David, as well as Tricia and Sherry. I've got high hopes that we'll learn a great deal from each other, as well as the folks in our growing PLNs. To be a teacher in today's world is challenging and full of messy potholes. What advice do you have for these three people who dare to re-imagine what it means to learn in the 21st Century? How can they best use technology to shine a light on learning?