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by: Kim Rieffannacht, Ed.D.
“What we are doing now is not working. It is time to try something new.” There is nothing better for a school leader to hear in a small meeting where the discussion of change was on the agenda. This learning facilitator was facing a new building administrator, rumors of grade-level changes, a possible scheduling overhaul and a complete reworking of how instruction was viewed; AND she was okay with it! She recognized that the current system and mode of instruction is not meeting her learners’ needs. Along with her team, she saw the need to take the next steps is making their environment, in this case a grade-level, a place where the entire focus was on the learner.
This is one of the first baby steps when beginning to walk down an Mass Customized Learning (MCL) journey, the conversation. The conversation that our learners are more important than our adult convenience. The conversation that allows for all members of the team, learning facilitators and leaders, to ask hard questions and realize that is is okay not to have the answers. The excitement of the ability to meet each learner’s needs, combined with the anxiety of an unknown creates a contagious almost frenzy around the conversation.
What question do you answer first? The answer to that will be different for each learning environment or district and to be quite honest during this meeting, the reality was there was only one concrete answer. There is a need to make a change. Not having all the answers and allowing the them to form over time is not always easy for a leader. As a leader what can be done to keep the team moving one baby step at a time?
First, keep the conversation alive using the terminology that illustrates what each person’s role is. Learner for the students, learning facilitator for teachers and leaders for administration better illustrate each role and how they should carry out their duties. Students number one priority is to learn, they are the learners, teacher no longer disseminate information, but rather facilitate the learning process, and school administrators are no longer focus on management, but instead lead the charge. These are important culture shifts and distinctions that need to become a part of everyday conversation. It will take time, but this list is truly how each member of the learning environment needs to view themselves in order for the MCL journey to be successful.
Second, as a leader, it is okay not to have all the answers. This is a difficult shift for some and is necessary when moving from the management style of administration to leadership. A leader is one member of a team, who may have added influence and responsibility; however, they cannot have all the answers. It has been said many times that more heads are better than one. Decisions related to moving forward with MCL need to be made as a result of a team discussion, research, thoughts and ideas. This shift in philosophy cannot happen overnight and cannot be dictated from the top down.
Finally, when starting out the mindset for the entire staff needs to be addressed. Working through the book Mindset by Carol Dweck is a good jumping off point. The learning environment needs to be filled with learning facilitators that believe that all learners can grow and succeed. This also begins with the leader. Modeling this is critical and can happen through conversations about seemingly hopeless situations, how professional development opportunities are executed, staff meetings are presented and evaluations are approached. It is the leader’s responsibility to set the tone for this mindset within the learning environment.
The MCL journey is a path that is more about the process and constant evaluation and change, than it is about arriving at a completed goal. Component of the learning environment may be very customized, while others still fall in a traditional model. There is not right or wrong way to approach this process; however, there is an undeniable need to make a change to meet this generation’s unique learning needs at all phases of development.
5 Tips to Help You Customize Your Math Class
By: John Miller
Standing Stone Elementary
Until a few months ago, if you would have spoken to me about MCL I would have thought you were talking about the medial collateral ligament. After I attended the SAS Institute on personalized learning, however, I came away with a better understanding of what mass customized learning or personalized learning should look like. The problem was, I didn’t have any concrete examples that I could use as a model. So when I came back to Standing Stone I figured I would try to implement a more customized style to my math class. Although the process takes time, and I am still working to find the best approaches to put my students in the center of their learning, I am enjoying the journey. If you are wondering where to start on the road to a more customized approach, let me offer you 5 tips on how to customize your math class.
1.) Lay a foundation:
You are going to need to change the mindset of your students. Many of them believe that it is your responsibility to make them learn. In a customized classroom, the onus of learning is bestowed upon the student. They need to become a learner and take responsibility. This ownership of learning is one of parts that has sold me on customization. I have more time to facilitate and meet with students than I ever have. Another change you will need to prepare for is testing. I no longer schedule tests. Students tell me when they are ready to test. Our class talks about what it means to be “test ready”. Do they think they have mastered the material they set out to learn? If the answer is no, why test?
2.) Organize – Make a checklist:
You probably have a series for your math and if you don’t there are plenty of resources out there on the internet. To keep some semblance of order, I decided I would make a checklist of all the work that students would need to complete to master a skill. You can come up with your checklist by standard or by chapter in your series. Each of my checklists starts with the standard and essential question, a video (our series has interactive ones), work on the skill, and finishes with some type of assessment. The assessment piece is key so that I can track the progress. Luckily, our series has a short online assessment component that gives me instantaneous feedback. I place everything on Google classroom. This way I can reuse it and the students have an easy place to access materials.
3.) Be flexible:
You may find that some of the changes you make require you to be a little more flexible. For example, each class period I let my teacher’s manual out for students to self check their work. This took some discussion with my students and a lot of flexibility on my part. Never in a million years did I think I would let the answers out for my students to look at, but it works as long as the students understand that getting the correct answer isn’t the goal, it is mastering the skill. Being more flexible about students moving about the room and the noise they make as they collaborate is something you will find takes some time to get accustomed to. Change is difficult, but you will find that is it probably more difficult for you than for the learners in your room.
4.) Space your room:
This is one area where I need to improve. I didn’t really think of how my room was set up before I began. If you are going to have a customized classroom, you are going to need to customize and use your space efficiently. Do you have room for students to work collaboratively? Do you have space where students can work independently? Do you have all of your materials easily accessible? Do you have all of your manipulatives easily accessible? Most of these were a “no” for me. I had the materials available for the lesson I was working on. With students working at their own pace, I need to have more of my materials readily available. Also, testing still causes me a bit of a problem. Most students do not want to be in the classroom while they test because of the noise. I don’t blame them. So finding enough space for them to test in a place that doesn’t have any distraction has been a problem for me. These are areas that I will continue to work on in the coming year.
5.) Use your colleagues:
This is a no brainer. You know that you have a colleague that will think of something that you did not. Use them. When I started this process I spoke with my 5th grade team, our technology coach, our instructional coach, and anyone else that I could bounce an idea off of. I learned how to use Google classroom which I had never used. My colleague came up with the idea of posing questions that required mathematical reasoning online so that my students had to show their mathematical reasoning ability. Without help, I would have failed. With my colleague’s help, I will continue to improve.
I must admit that I was skeptical about this process when I started and I know that I don’t have it all figured out. However, when I see how engaged my students are, how much they have accomplished, and the data I am getting back, then I know I am moving in the right direction. I hope these tips help you to do so as well.