ESSA and Opportunities for Communities

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-09-30 08:00

There is a lot to work through with the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). How is it different from No Child Left behind (NCLB)? How can we leverage its flexibilities to thoughtfully implement personalized learning? How can states better understand new opportunities with assessment and accountability?

One important piece that’s often left out of ESSA discussion is the role of the community liaison. At the recent 2016 StriveTogether Cradle to Career Convening, Rise Up: Education Excellence for Every Child, Lillian Pace and I worked with community partnerships across the country to discuss just that.

In our session, we reviewed a state’s draft accountability report card and its implications within a community. We discussed how community liaisons can work with parents and community members to make new data easier to understand.  We talked about making sure every community has a voice in the ongoing application of the law.

Read my summary of our session and get guiding questions for how you can work with your community to explore the role of the community liaison with ESSA.

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Congratulations to Kim Cook, a White House Champion of Change

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-09-29 14:30

KnowledgeWorks extends hearty congratulations to Kim Cook, Executive Director of the National College Access Network (NCAN), as she is honored by the White House this week for being a “Champion of Change for College Opportunity!” Now more than 500 program members strong, NCAN represents a wide variety of community-based organizations who receive very valuable information, resources, technical assistance and advocacy from Kim and her excellent team. KnowledgeWorks is a long-time supporter of NCAN and proudly shares NCAN’s commitment to high-quality educational opportunity and success for every student.

On a personal level, having served on NCAN’s Board of Directors from 2008-2014, I am extremely proud of the progress made by NCAN under Kim’s leadership and the phenomenal growth of the organization. In the early days of her NCAN career, Kim quickly came to understand and embrace the complex issues facing underrepresented youth, and then combined that with her strong organizational skills to ultimately become the tremendously successful leader of the nation’s largest association of college access programs. In recent years, she has become a leading go-to authority on all issues pertaining to higher education attainment. She is widely respected and admired not only by NCAN members, but by experts and practitioners across the nation.

Congratulations to Kim and her remarkable staff for this very well-deserved recognition!

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Capturing Student Voice

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-09-29 08:00

Faced with the traditional tasks of setting up routines and procedures for their classrooms, teachers in the Marysville Exempted Village School District took a different tack this year. Immersed in the development of personalized learning and competency-based education, school staff have wrestled with what it really means to have learners at the center. When engaged in inquiry of best practices for Personalized Learning, we’ve looked at student agency, which refers to the level of control, autonomy, and power that a student experiences in an educational situation. This led teachers to examine their own practices and reflected on all the ways they afforded kids the opportunities to have power, autonomy, and control.

Understanding that agency is a critical disposition if they want their students to be drivers of their own learning, teachers developed experiences to solicit student voice in establishing classroom rules. Standard Operating Procedures, or SOPs, were used as a tool to begin to develop agency in students. Instead of teacher-created posters and lists of the rules and procedures, children were able to co-create these SOPs with the teachers.

Kindergarteners develop standard operating procedures! @NavinElementary @knowledgeworks #learneragency pic.twitter.com/iIbBNZIfLk

— Robin Kanaan (@RobinKanaan) September 7, 2016

Cubbies, hallways, morning routines and circle time, literacy block, restrooms, lunchroom – all are familiar in a school setting and require procedures and routines as part of the building climate. Including, no insisting, that children have a seat at the table to determine what these are increases engagement, ownership, agency, and moves from a “rule-ridden” environment of compliance to a learning community where students voice is valued and nurtured!

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Exploring the School of the Future with PBS

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-09-28 08:00

PBS recently explored what the school of the future might look like by examining the role of technology in the classroom, how the latest breakthroughs in psychology and neurology might help change how students are taught, different school and class formats such as project-based learning, and insights from educators themselves.

As a futurist I spend a lot of time thinking about what the future of learning might look like. I was excited to see how PBS would approach the topic.

I found the special to be a thoughtful look into what is happening in terms of current innovations within the existing school system and was pleased to see that many of the themes that are present in our most recent forecast, The Future of Learning:  Education in the Era of Partners in Code, were we also considered. For example, our Optimized Selves driver of change explores the potential for advances in neuro- and emotion sciences to impact learning, and our Labor Relations 2.0 driver of change examines how technology might be employed to reshape not only learning but society itself.

After watching PBS’s “School of the Future,” I was left with one question: What if the school of the future is not a school at all?

Given advances in technology, it is becoming increasingly possible to link formal and informal learning instances together into a coherent learning journey. Add into the mix a growing desire for personalized learning, and one possible image for the school of the future is one where a learning ecosystem would replace traditional notions of school. In this scenario, students would make use of a wide variety of learning venues, experiences, and formats based on their individual needs, interests, and goals, working with learning pathway designers and other educators to create and pursue highly customized learning journeys. This approach means that there is no one right way, and allows for the potential to radically personalize education by creating a web of learning experiences. For example, a learner’s customized learning journey might mean that they spend part of their day in a traditional classroom, another part of their day in a makerspace, local museum, or library, while on other days they might be engaged in blended learning.

If you had a chance to watch the special, I would love to hear your thoughts about it. Let me know on Twitter or comment on Facebook. In the meantime, what does the school of the future look like to you?

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The Promise of Real Learning

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-09-27 08:00

At a recent retreat, KnowledgeWorks staff were asked to consider how personalized learning, realized through competency-based education, could have changed their own school experiences or how it might change schooling for the children in their lives. We were tasked to write a postcard to our child selves, or to our children, with our hopes and dreams for those learning experiences. These are our words.


Since I came to work at KnowledgeWorks, I’ve seen the promise of what real, deep learning can look like. I loved school when I was a little girl, but I was often bored. When I got really energized about a project or course of study, my extra effort was perceived as being over-the-top and not necessarily a good thing.

I want you to be able to go “all-in” when it comes to the subjects you love – I cannot imagine someone holding you back when it comes to learning about space and infinity and China and wood chippers. I hope that the learning you experience is as beautiful in middle school and high school as it is now at 3 ½.



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The Importance of Defining Personalized Learning

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-09-26 07:35

Two weeks ago, my colleague Sarah Jenkins wrote about nine teachers who are leading the shift towards personalized learning in the classroom who are leading the shift towards personalized learning in the classroom. These outstanding practitioners shared their insights and stories in KnowledgeWorks’ paper on the changing paradigm of teaching as we move towards a more personalized learning system.

In that paper, KnowledgeWorks offers definition for personalized learning that includes:

Instruction is aligned to rigorous college- and career-ready standards and the social and emotional skills students 
need to be successful in college and career.

At Boston Day and Evening Academy in Boston Public Schools, teachers collaborate to develop courses tailored around a target set of benchmarks with spiraling curriculum that revisits core competencies. This foundation allows teachers and students to be creative and free to explore multiple pathways toward mastery.

Instruction is customized, allowing each student to design learning experiences aligned to his or her interests.

Menomonee Falls School District in Wisconsin creates an individual student, rather than whole-class, improvement cycle. The district also involves students in creating supports and interventions, focusing on ability rather than disability and demonstrating that the varied strengths of all students should be supported, deepened, and accelerated.

The pace of instruction is varied based on individual student needs, allowing students to accelerate or take additional time based on their level of mastery.

In Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, teachers not only acknowledge that each student learns at a different pace, but also discuss that openly with students, building a strong foundation for lifelong learning.

Educators use data from formative assessments and student feedback in real-time to differentiate instruction and provide robust supports and interventions so that every student remains on track to graduation.

At a school in Janesville School District in Wisconsin, teachers have embraced data-driven decision making and teaching and use data to tell a story of the entire class and of each student.

Students and parents have access to clear, transferable learning objectives and assessment results so they understand what is expected for mastery and advancement.

In Lindsay Unified School District in California, the learning environment allows for transparency between students and teachers and openness to feedback. This cultural norm is aligned at all levels of the district, including parents, students, teachers, school leaders, and district leaders.

Establishing a definition for personalized learning is extremely important for several reasons. First, it lays the groundwork for setting a vision for personalized learning in schools and districts. Second, it establishes parameters for teachers to work within as they lead the implementation of personalized learning in their classrooms. Finally, definitional language can be used to set goals and foster continuous improvement mindsets among teachers.

 Personalized Learning According to Teachers.’Read more teacher perspectives on personalized learning in ‘The Shifting Paradigm of Teaching: Personalized Learning According to Teachers.’

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Did you know? 8 Surprising Facts about Career Pathways and Early College

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-09-22 07:54

Before my senior year in high school, I sat in my guidance counselor’s office, bright-eyed and enthusiastic about the possibility of earning some college credits before graduating. With interests in English and government, the Advanced Placement (AP) courses offered seemed like the perfect match. I was confident they would jumpstart my college career, saving time and money on intro-level college courses when I arrived to campus the following year.

Unfortunately, I still found myself surrounded by fellow college freshmen, reading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and paying for a 4-credit, introductory English course at my university the following fall.

Students in early colleges typically have a much different experience in earning college credit. Yes, they take high school classes, but they also enroll in actual college courses at a local postsecondary institution with older students and university professors. This opens the door to earning a high school diploma and associate’s degree in four years.

To share expertise on early college and career pathways, we joined EduTalk Radio with some of our school and higher education partners. Our guests, who shared insight into the learning experience, community partnerships and high expectations, included KnowledgeWorks Senior Director of Operations Deborah Howard, Timken Early College High School Principal Kenneth L. Brunner, Stark State College Director of Outreach Dennis Trenger, and University of Akron Assistant Dean for the College of Applied Science and Technology Kelly Herold.

Here are some of our favorite takeaways from the show:

  1. “Early college a very well-thought-out and laid out plan that looks a little different” in each school, Howard said.
  2. “The difference between the early college high school that we have and the post-secondary options, such as Advanced Placement, is that we have wrap-around services for students,” Brunner said. These services provide greater support to early college students who, at Timken Early College High School, are mostly first-generation college students and/or from low-income neighborhoods.
  3. The end goal is to help students find meaningful employment. “There are many pathways to accomplish that goal,” Trenger said. Early colleges help students explore and pursue career pathways to give them a jumpstart.
  4. Because students aren’t in a traditional high school environment, early colleges don’t usually have as many disciplinary issues as traditional high schools, Herold said of students at Akron Early College High School. “They are embedded right in the University of Akron atmosphere, so they model the behavior that they see. We haven’t had a lot of issues.”
  5. It’s an all-around supportive environment, Trenger said. Not only are the teachers helping students learn and meet expectations, but students help motivate and challenge their peers, as well.
  6. “Our staff buys into this totally,” Brunner said. They understand the goals and the expectation for students, and they believe in the goal for students to achieve as close as possible to an associate’s degree.
  7. Everyone – inside and outside the school – is needed to help early college students succeed. “This group treats each other like family,” Brunner said. The support network extends from the staff members to parents and the community that surrounds and supports the school.
  8. A side benefit of early college is “alignment of expectations from middle school, to high school, right to higher ed. We all understand the expectations so we can align the curriculum pieces so when kids are going through the pathway, they are prepared,” Trenger said. In the past, the systems didn’t talk. But with early colleges, they do.

Listen to the compete show on EduTalk.

Learn more about our early college partners:

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Why do teachers implement personalized learning?

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-09-21 09:00

At a glance, personalized learning sounds like an obviously great idea. Parents want their children to receive personalized instruction throughout the school day. Teachers want to be able to respond effectively to individual students’ strengths and weaknesses. Students want their learning to be relevant to their lives.

However, the reality of implementation poses a seemingly insurmountable challenge given schools’ limited time and resources. At the same time, some teachers, schools, and districts confront the challenge with creative use of the same time and resources to make the great idea of personalized learning a reality.

During our research for The Shifting Paradigm of Teaching: Personalized Learning According to Teachers, we spoke with teachers leading personalized learning transitions in their schools and districts. Even faced with the challenges coming from all levels of the education system, these teachers believe so strongly in the promise of personalized learning that they choose to push through. In fact, one teacher we interviewed expressed, “I don’t know if I can do this, but I need to do it for kids.”

“I don’t know if I can do this, but I need to do it for kids.” #personalizedlearning
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Here are some of the reasons that teachers committed to the challenge of personalized learning:

  • Personalized learning is simply what is best for kids. Learning experiences are authentic and meaningful. They want to see the purpose and connect education to real life.
  • Personalized learning builds a culture of trust between the students and adults. It becomes okay to try, fail, and learn from that failure.
  • Personalized learning builds a stronger staff culture of transparency, collaboration, and alignment.
  • Personalized learning allows the teachers to be the experts. Teachers are empowered and provided with trust, time, and support.
  • Personalized learning elevates the profession of teaching. Teachers are able to step up as leaders in their classrooms, schools and districts. In many cases, teachers are even able to build substantial networks with teacher across the state and country pursuing similar work.
  • Personalized learning can provide an opportunity for grassroots spread. Teachers can lead by demonstrating passion, and other teachers see that passion and are able to be the agents of change in their own classroom at a pace at which they are comfortable.
  • Personalized learning is the best way to maximize all of the technology resources that many teachers have available to them. With one-to-one initiatives and large achievement gaps, personalized learning just makes sense.
  • Personalized learning restored many teachers’ faith in education and enthusiasm about their work. Many teachers felt unfulfilled in a traditional environment, feeling that they weren’t meeting their students’ needs and that there were constantly roadblocks in their way.

For those reasons, and many more, teachers put themselves back in the shoes of a first year teacher as they re-learned how to best meet students’ needs. With a firm belief in continuous improvement, their schools and districts were able to face challenges and learn from mistakes along the way. Personalized learning is by no means a simple shift in practice, but as many teachers told us, it’s about doing the hard thing when it’s what is best for the kids.

 Personalized Learning According to Teachers.’Read more teacher perspectives on personalized learning in our recent paper, ‘The Shifting Paradigm of Teaching: Personalized Learning According to Teachers.’

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Dual Enrollment Versus Early College: The difference between college enrollment and college completion

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-09-20 08:00

For decades, a tremendous amount of emphasis has been placed on college access – usually in the form of community-based programs that assist students with the admission and financial aid processes, provide last dollar scholarship funds and offer an array of related services. That “movement” has been, and still is, critically important. But it’s not enough to help young people enroll in college, only to see many of them drop out long before completing a degree program. We must ensure that they enroll as fully prepared as possible to succeed – academically, socially and in every other way.

Dual enrollment has as its primary practical purpose the acquisition of college credits while in high school, which will save both time and money for the young people who desire to pursue higher education. And while I applaud these programs, especially to the extent that they target traditionally underrepresented populations of students, we must be careful not to overemphasize the “credit attainment” aspect to the detriment of students’ ability to successfully pursue a pathway that prepares them for higher level courses and leads to a meaningful outcome in the form of a degree or marketable credential.

Returning to my “preparedness” point, it is critical that dual enrollment courses shed the potential label of “fake college courses.” They must be rigorous and fully aligned or identical to introductory college courses. There is nothing more frustrating for a young enrollee who thinks the dual enrollment course s/he has taken has prepared him/her for the next level course, only to discover that s/he is woefully unprepared because the dual enrollment course was lacking in rigor.

It is also critical that dual enrollment courses be aligned to some degree or certificate pathway. Someone once used the term “random acts of dual enrollment” to describe the all-too-often unrelated courses students take, which ultimately may not add up to progress toward program or degree completion. We must make sure that the courses students take lead to an outcome that is progressive, marketable and worthwhile.

So whereas we applaud dual enrollment as an important stepping stone – especially if developed with rigor and intentionality, we also know and have demonstrated that young people are capable of so much more. However, we must provide the supports, interventions and flexibility that will lead to the best outcomes for students. At KnowledgeWorks and in numerous other organizations and communities across the nation, we are placing our bets on early college high schools.

Interested in learning more about the differences between dual enrollment and early college? View our Early College Intensity Scale.

This post adapted from From Enrollment to Completion, which was originally published in 2014.

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Beanbags, Baskets, Balls and Books: Opening up decision-making to include student voice

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-09-19 08:00

Children returning from summer vacation to Navin Elementary School in Marysville, Ohio, are noticing something different in their classrooms this year. Gone are the traditional student desks and chairs. Instead, teachers have worked hard to provide their students with other options for learning throughout the physical space. As part of their district’s journey to become a competency-based system with a focus on personalized learning, the faculty has begun to focus on learner-centered classrooms.

Recognizing that a hallmark of personalized learning is student agency, or the level of control, autonomy, and power that a student experiences in an educational situation, teachers decided to begin with the learning environment. Intrigued by the idea of flexible seating and learning spaces, and encouraged to take risks and try something different by their principal Lynette Lewis, teachers began rethinking their classroom designs.

A hallmark of personalized learning is student agency. #personalizedlearning @robinkanaan
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Intrigued by the idea of flexible seating and learning spaces, and encouraged to take risks and try something different by their principal Lynette Lewis, teachers began rethinking their classroom designs.Out went desks and chairs, and in came pillows, mats, bean bags, child-sized stools, laundry baskets, and exercise balls. The table legs were adjusted to accommodate the change, and students had a hand in the location and placement of the new furniture.

“It has been exciting to watch the teachers shift their thinking,” says Lynette. “Opening up decision-making to include student voice tells me they are embracing the change! My job is to support and encourage them as they take those risks.”

In Kindergarten, teacher reflections have been profound. Hillary Weiser, a veteran teacher who took on the charge, exchanged chairs for bean bags and laundry baskets.

“It’s time to go to your favorite learning spot friends,” Mrs. Weiser tells her students.

As 5 year olds pull apart laundry baskets and unroll mats, nestling in and getting comfy with the language arts task at hand, Hillary takes a moment to reflect. “The flexible seating is not a distraction; it’s the way they now know school. I can’t believe how engaged and on task they are, with something that began as simple as giving kids a choice.”

Mrs. Weiser is not alone in her thinking, as she realizes it is often our youngest learners who have the most to teach us!

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Leading the Charge for Personalized Learning: Nine Teachers to Watch

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-09-13 08:00

Exactly one year ago, KnowledgeWorks was in the midst of interviewing teachers from across the nation. We wanted to better understand how they navigated the transition from teaching in a traditional environment to an environment focused on personalizing learning to the needs of each student. As a result of the findings of our interviews, we published The Shifting Paradigm of Teaching: Personalized Learning According to Teachers. In that paper, we outlined the fundamental shifts that must occur in the education system to enable teachers to lead a transition to personalized learning. We are hopeful that it will push forward conversations at all levels of the system around how teachers can be empowered and supported in transitions to innovative practices.

Throughout the paper, we included some excerpts from interviews and short features written by teachers. Unfortunately, many of the day-to-day stories couldn’t be included in the final paper. For that reason, we wanted to share some inspirational stories from teachers who participated in our interviews. These are teachers who are leading their work in districts and sharing what they learn with others across the country. We hope that you are as inspired by these teachers as we have been!

1 & 2. Kate Sommerville and Angela Patterson from the Elmbrook School District

You can follow the work of Kate Sommerville and Angela Patterson on the blog they co-maintain, T.E.A.M. Togetherness. Their co-blogging is reflective of their co-teaching experiences. They teach than 50 fourth graders. They “believe in differentiation, choice, mistakes, second chances, collaboration, and community.”

3. Jennifer Bates from the Elmbrook School District

Jennifer Bates is part of a teachers looking at alternative ways to meet the needs of students in the Elmbrook School District, including combined classes of fourth and fifth graders. This is keeping classes sizes small and making it easier for teachers to personalized learning experiences. Read more.

4. Melissa Schneider from the Mayville School District

Melissa Schneider was a trailblazer in her district when it started to move towards personalized learning. She experienced that new types of collaboration among teachers and the new excitement for learning among her students as the transition to personalized learning took place.

5 & 6. Rebecca Taylor and Brooke Young from Marysville Early College High School

Marysville Early College High School is in its third year and Rebecca Taylor and Brooke Young are among the great staff helping the school implement personalized learning for their students. Rebecca is also leading work around technology integration in Ohio. Read more.

7. Krista Krauter from the School District of Waukesha

Krista Krauter has led the work to promote personalized learning in her district, which this year is expending from reaching 90 students to 150 students. Read more.

8. Sarah Amin from Yellow Springs Schools

Sarah Amin has attracted attention in Yellow Springs for how she is integrating class subjects and personalizing projects for her students. Read more.

9. Melinda Larson-Horne from Pewaukee School District

Melinda Larson-Horne was one of 35 teachers cross the country selected to become Google certified at the Google Teacher Academy this past year. She’s excited to take what she’s learning back to her classroom. Read more.

This is just a small peak at the great work teachers are doing across the country. Please tweet at us if you have teachers who inspire you or if you are a teacher and want to share your stories!

 Personalized Learning According to Teachers.’Read more teacher perspectives on personalized learning in our recent paper, ‘The Shifting Paradigm of Teaching: Personalized Learning According to Teachers.’

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The Conditions Necessary to Move from a Traditional School District to a True Learning Community

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-09-12 08:00

We’ve known for a long time that personalized learning is an effective way to improve student outcomes. The key is to apply that knowledge not to just a single student, a school or even a an entire school district, but to develop a learning community. In a recent McKinsey & Company article, “How to scale personalized learning,” Greg Rawson, Jimmy Sarakatsannis and Doug Scott cite common themes across communities who are successfully scaling personalized learning. The best practices they cite align with the “District Conditions for Scale: A Practical Guide for Scaling Personalized Learning,” which was released by KnowledgeWorks in 2014.

What stood out for me in the McKinsey & Company article were the importance of vision, transparency and culture. Those are the three meta-themes that exist in the ten conditions laid out by KnowledgeWorks. All three need to be firmly in existence throughout all ten of the district conditions.


Without a strong vision for personalized learning, school districts will just do initiative after initiative. A strong vision for learning eliminates piecemeal management and empowers strong, systemic processes that align all decisions to deep levels of learning for all children. A shared vision will become the touchpoint around which all work within a learning community is planned.

See examples of personalized learning communities applying their vision in Portland, Maine, Lindsay, California, and Austin, Texas.


To truly make the systemic switch to personalized learning, we have to have a system-wide approach to innovation. When we talk about transparency at KnowledgeWorks, we’re making the case for being inclusive of everyone in the process. Change like this is not something that just the School Board or administration or superintendent does.

A successful transition to personalized learning is a system-wide approach that is codified by teachers, by administrators, by students and by community members. Everyone is included in the process and that ensures that everyone is committed to the vision together and designs the learning structures necessary to make personalized learning possible.

The idea of transparency extends to our students as well. When we’re crystal clear with students about what the expectations are for them, and they understand how they can leverage their interests, hobbies and what motivates them and apply those things to the expected learning outcomes … that’s when personalized learning starts happening.


When you’re operating under a shared vision, in partnership with people and organizations throughout the community, you are creating a culture of personalized learning.  This culture is critical for the successful transition to personalized learning, but doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens through the process of creating a shared vision and being transparent about the process, expectations, successes and lessons learned.

When you put those conditions all in place – built around those meta themes of vision, transparency and culture – that’s when a school district transitions from a traditional school district to a true learning community.

 Personalized Learning According to Teachers.’

Learn more about districts across the country scaling personalized learning.

Download “District Conditions for Scale: A Practical Guide for Scaling personalized Learning” and find out the ten conditions necessary to successfully scale personalized learning.

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To Shape the Future of Learning, Tackle These Five Issues

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-09-09 08:00

We live in interesting times – an era of profound transition. Technological trends such as advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning are intersecting with cultural trends such as increasing pursuit of meaningful engagement and rising expectations for transparency and distributed authority. These and many other trends add up to what we forecast to be an era of partners in code in which how we live, work, and learn could change dramatically.

In face of such changes, KnowledgeWorks invited leaders and innovators in K-12 school-based education, informal and community-based learning, and higher education to dive deep into potential implications and consider strategies for shaping the future of learning in a way that serves all learners well. As our strategic foresight team looked across their insights and suggestions, five foundational issues emerged.

These issues represent critical areas for shaping the future of learning. Here’s a preview from our forthcoming paper:

1. 360 Degree Learners: Educating the whole person

How might broader approaches to learning support lifelong education for the whole person?

2. The Whole, and the Sum of Its Parts: Personalizing learning in community

How might we reorient education around learners while strengthening the fabric of society?

3. Elastic Structures: Creating flexible approaches to learning and coordination

How might learning structures and tools allow for stronger feedback loops and enable more voices to be heard?

4. Innovation with Intent: Grounding systems change in equity

How might we ensure that new approaches include and support underserved learners?

5. The New A+: Renegotiating definitions of success

How might we redefine the purpose of education, measures of success, and authority?

While every organization has different goals, needs, and available resources, we think tackling these big questions – and working with others to do so – will help the education sectors develop strong future-facing visions and pursue aligned strategies.

We believe that striking moving toward a future vision while stewarding today’s organizations and responding to current reality is possible. Stay tuned for more detail in our forthcoming strategy guide!

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Futurists like Katherine Prince broadening commentary about the future of learning

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-09-08 08:00

There is a small but growing community of futurists around the world. A recent article by Dr. Liz Alexander in Leading Thought highlights 20 of the leading women futurists. These women are making strides in a field built on the idea that everything is constantly changing, using foresight to help stakeholders understand what change might mean for them. I’m humbled that I get to call many of these women my friends and colleagues and happy to see them getting recognition.

While I think you should head over to “Women of Foresight: Changes in Education for Future Student Success” and learn more about each one of these amazing futurists, I’d like to especially call out Anne Boyson, Elizabeth Merrit, Emily Empel, Joyce Goya, Maree Conway, Parminder Jassal, Alexandra Whittington, and Katherine Prince. These particular futurists are ones I have had the pleasure of knowing personally, and who I have learned from, who have inspired me, and who I have worked side by side with.

Of all the futurists on the list, I want to call special attention to Katherine Prince. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Katherine at KnowledgeWorks for the past two years and we’ve spent a lot of that time discussing what possibilities lie ahead for education. In the article, she says:

Young people need the opportunity to identify and explore their passions, understand themselves as whole people, and examine ways of making an impact in a world where we will increasingly need to demonstrate unique human value alongside machines, and navigate a complex landscape of paid work and other forms of value exchange.

That gets to one thing I especially respect about Katherine. In addition to applying an academic, investigative lens to the work we do, she continues to keep the student at the center of our work. It makes what we’re doing more tangible, more empathetic and more actionable.

The work that the futurists in this list do is tremendously important. Foresight is an industry that is dominated by older, white men. In broadening the commentary about the future to include more voices, we can derive deeper insights about change and have a richer discussion about what the future might look like and what we want out of it.  Thank you Dr. Alexander for putting this list together, and thank you to all who are included on that list for your contributions to making the future a better place.

See the full list of leading women futurists.

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Empowering Learning by Handing Control Over to Students – It’s Not as Scary As You Think

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-09-06 09:00

I taught summer reading enrichment workshops one summer, for children of all ages. Among the tools we were encouraged to use in our classroom were verbal contracts: if I noted a student experiencing difficulty focusing, or a similar behavior that required management on my part, I was to get on eye level with them, explain what I was seeing, and ask them to confirm what they were experiencing. I was then instructed to outline my expectations for them, and ask, very pointedly, “Can you do that?”

They almost always said, “Yes.”

They didn’t almost always follow through.

It was still a game changer for me as a young and mostly untrained teacher – I’d been a graduate student with a teaching assistantship and later an adjunct professor, and had little more than a few days of orientation regarding classroom management and curriculum development. Up until that point, the idea of handing over any control in my classroom was unheard of. And even though this was a very small step – putting it into the hands of the student to do as they were asked rather than being told – it was certainly the tiniest step in the right direction.

In a recent conversation with Laura Hilger, KnowledgeWorks’ new Teaching and Learning Senior Coach, I got a peek at how empowering a learning environment that is truly student-centered can be.

“It begins with something as simple as deciding, as a class, when you might do something like take a break for a snack,” says Hilger. “Have your kids vote, and hold them to their choices. For older students, maybe it’s deciding on the initial due date for a project.”

These kinds of “safe” decisions are a good starting point – you’ll always break for snack and collect work, and allowing students to weigh in on when and how that happens gives them a sense of ownership. Hilger also recommends that students of all ages are given the opportunity to outline standard operating procedures for their classroom, and a code of conduct that they can all agree to and feel invested in.

“It’s liberating as the teacher, because they don’t only hold themselves accountable. They hold each other accountable,” Hilger says.

Creating a space for and honoring student voice is also critical, according to Hilger. Using parking lots to allow students to share with you and with each other, thinking about how you will welcome feedback from students following activities. How you will work with students to articulate and set their own goals? How will your principal collect student voice?

“If I empower students through protocols, if I hold them to the decisions they make, I’m asking them to practice skills they’re going to need when they grow up and walk into a college classroom, into an office,” says Hilger. You can begin to empower students at any time, but the start of the school year, especially, is ideal for laying the foundation for practices and guiding principles everyone in your classroom can lean on all year long.

While it’s a process, and you can’t expect overnight buy-in and understanding from students who have perhaps never been asked to participate in a classroom community in quite this way, I can’t help but feel like If I had at the start of my summer classes decided on expectations with my students – rather than deciding what they needed to do in advance – we may have reached the same common sense set of behaviors together.

They could’ve said “yes” and meant it.

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Five questions school stakeholders can ask to ensure students are leaders of their own learning

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-09-01 09:00

Guest post by Kevin Murray, a teacher at Casco Bay High School in Portland Public Schools in Maine.

Among the many ways to achieve school change, gains will only be made if students are at the center of conversation. And I think that happens best through deeper, more personalized learning.

I can’t imagine a better setting to write about deeper learning than the Seeds of Peace International Camp session that began in early July in a small Maine town, three hours north of Boston. I had the good fortune to be part of what Daniel Moses, Director of Seeds of Peace Educator Programs, described as “an experiment in creating peace as we live together with conflict for three weeks.” Parallel to the camp program for high school students, educators from the Middle East and United States moved through a structured process of building and holding relationships with respect while fully communicating the many daunting struggles seen in their home communities. By day three, I had seen and felt deeper and individualized learning in a new way—a way that is as inclusive of joy and hope as it is facts and figures.

Deeper learning must connect the three Rs: rigor, relevance, and relationships. At Seeds of Peace, dialogue sessions facilitate deeper learning. Groups of two dozen or so campers meet with a pair of Israeli and Palestinian facilitators almost every day. Seeds of Peace serves as a channel for discordant information left out of national narratives in Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and the United States. When participants unearth new information and assumptions, their focus shifts from telling the “truth” to speaking and listening with deep honesty. This process is the beginning of tolerance, pluralism and empathetic perspective taking. They’re building relationships. In a world of surging gridlock, polarization unrest and inequality, I can’t think of skills and habits more in need for all human beings than pluralism within deep learning.

But not every community contains, or needs, a unique camp like this to connect the three Rs. Too many schools address pedagogy and curriculum development divorced from the immeasurable power of student collaboration and the vulnerability required in self-discovery and reflection. If students don’t become leaders of important learning and know themselves, each other, and at least one teacher well, then strategies and practices can be implemented year after year that will fall short of creating a great school.

What are some questions school stakeholders can ask as they work to ensure that students are leaders of their own learning?

  • Is rigor measured not only in students’ academic achievement but also in their habits of scholarship, ex. homework completion, meeting deadlines, class participation?
  • Do we use sports teams and pep rallies, as the models of our school, or have we developed rituals and traditions for all students that require adventure, reflection, service and appreciation?
  • How do our strategies and practices assure that our students are open, honest and deeply connected to each other and a larger purpose, not only their individual academic achievement?
  • Is student opinion regularly gathered when it relates to changes in school policy?
  • Are students among the adults who review school changes?

How students at Casco Bay High School are leaders of their own learning

At Casco Bay High School (CBHS), we see a 4-year arch in our advisory from community to stewardship, service junior year and leadership as seniors. It seems obvious that all schools welcome all opinions and want to teach beyond academic content; yet fractured, underfunded systems, unearthed bias and fixed mindsets often create a drift away from a school’s mission and vision. The result is a school where the leadership and most teachers have a view of the place that is vastly different than students’ daily perceptions of what is going on.

When a school is run as it should, student support services are diverse, discipline and justice are restorative, character is always modeled by the faculty and interventions and learning plans are tied to observable next steps for students. Deeper learning then, is not only individualized but dynamic and steeped in social justice and improving the world.

Deeper learning is individualized, dynamic and steeped in social justice and improving the world.
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 Personalized Learning According to Teachers.’Read more teacher perspectives on personalized learning in our recent paper, ‘The Shifting Paradigm of Teaching: Personalized Learning According to Teachers.’

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How Do You Measure Success at an Early College High School?

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-08-30 08:00

Guest post by Ida M. D’Ugo, Ed.D., a teacher at Roosevelt High School – Early College Studies (RHS-ECS) in Yonkers, New York. RHS-ECS is a KnowledgeWorks partner school.

Many theories abound regarding the characteristics of a successful school associated with effective schools and school improvement research. In reality, it is not one single component that transforms a school, but rather the interplay of many elements contingent upon the school’s culture and climate that drive its success.

One way Roosevelt High School – Early College Studies (RHS-ECS) measures success is through student academic achievement as evidenced by scholarships awarded to seniors, as well as student recognition (all grades) through “Student of the Month” and the quarterly honor roll awards and breakfast. RHS-ECS’ culture emphasizes academic rigor, high expectations of students, and excellence while celebrating student accomplishment, teacher innovation, and parental commitment.

Scholarships awarded represent the cumulative efforts of students, teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, the college advisor, families, and the school community over the course of four years. These efforts take the form of academic (e.g., targeted instruction, after school and weekend academies, mentoring programs), emotional, and social support (e.g., College Center, Family Center, family community engagement, parent conferences, social worker, counselors, psychologist, teachers, administrators, staff). Cooperation and collaboration together help attain instructional improvement contributing to student achievement.

Total scholarships have increased 108% from $4,396,605 for the class of 2014, to $9,161,869 and counting for the class of 2016. Private scholarships increased 341% from $27,000 for the class of 2014, to $119,000 for the class of 2016. Scholarship recipients are commended for their accomplishments through morning announcements, displays on TV monitors, Senior Awards Night, and bulletin boards.

The top 20 ranking seniors at Roosevelt High School - Early College Studies have a special bulletin board by the main office displaying their photographs and names. It's just one way the school honors student success.Quarterly honor roll recognition has grown to 197 students. Students are well aware of the selection criteria for Principal’s List, High Honor Roll, and Honor Roll, and strive to attain these awards. The names of all honor roll students are posted on a display by the main entrance. In addition, these students are acknowledged at a school breakfast. The top 20 per grade level are likewise honored at PTSA meetings. Lastly, the top 20 seniors have a special bulletin board by the main office displaying their photographs and names.

“Student of the Month” awards continue to showcase student achievement in a specific content area. Students are nominated by teachers and recognized in the monthly newsletter and TV monitors.

At Roosevelt High School - Early College Studies, leaders know that school success and community success are linked. That's why they engage parents and the community in fun activities.

School success and community success are linked. For this reason, engaging parents and the community in school improvement contributes to student achievement. At the high school level in an urban setting, family community engagement can be quite challenging. One way RHS-ECS addresses this “phenomenon” is to host Family Recreation Night. Teachers and administrators facilitate numerous sports, leisure, and academic activities (Zumba, Weight Training, Movies, Sports, Cooking, Online Gaming, Storytime for Kids, Paint Nite) for students and their families on designated Friday evenings. Childcare services are also provided by staff and student volunteers. Paint Nite by far has had the largest turnout with each participant taking home a painting as a memento of the occasion. This event is promoted through flyers, posters, mailings, and ConnectEd (recorded telephone) messages. Initial attendance consisted of 32 participants but grew to 42 plus staff. Lastly, a culminating activity for students, parents, and faculty was a trip to see one of the local baseball teams, the Mets, play. 120 members of the RHS-ECS community made it to the game displaying school spirit as well as rooting for the home team. For RHS-ECS, including parents and community help build trust and commitment to the school contributing to school improvement.

As previously mentioned, there is no single factor that can accurately determine a school’s success. Rather multiple factors are at play that evolve from the school’s culture and climate. The key is to determine which components are relevant to your school and can be developed into a recipe for success.

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Bringing Learning to Life with Design Challenges

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-08-25 08:00

A common scene at our partner schools: Students are divided into small groups called design teams and presented with a design challenge, which allows them to solve a problem as a team through a focus of inquiry, rich tasks, constraints and criteria for success. Activities like these show students how to be problem-solvers and not just question answerers.

The power of a design challenge is dependent on the quality of the challenge itself. Is it specific enough to provide clear direction but open enough to allow for creativity and real inquiry? Earlier this summer, KnowledgeWorks Teachnical Assistance Coaches Heather MacLaughlin and Karen Wells taught teachers in Birmingham, Alabama, how to teach with design challenges by presenting one for the teachers to solve.

Design Thinking and Inquiry-Based Learning

Heather and Karen presented minimal details to the small teacher groups. “Work in your small groups. Using the supplies in front of you, design a rocket that you can both launch and fly.” Design challenges like these give participants an opportunity to practice design thinking.

Design thinking is a cyclical, four-step approach to inquiry-based problem solving that can be applied in many settings.

The design thinking process for problem solving allows for continuous improvement.Download a larger version of the design thinking cycle.
  1. Prepare: Define your question, challenge or question. Do background research to build knowledge. Develop multiple perspectives.
  2. Incubate: Brainstorm possible answers, solutions, new ideas and approaches. Draft, tinker and create rapid prototypes.
  3. Gain Insights: Test the prototype. Refine and make revisions to finalize the prototype. Communicate and disseminate the innovation.
  4. Verify: Filter and recycle ideas and identify the best possibilities. Build the prototypes using the best possibilities.

The Value of Design Challenges

When teachers in Birmingham, Alabama, worked through their design challenge building a rocket, they also worked through all steps of the design cycle, giving them insight into what their students might experience.As teachers worked through their design challenge building a rocket, they also worked through all steps of the design cycle, giving them insight into what their students might experience.

After everyone launched their rockets – some with more success than others, teachers debriefed on lessons learned. One of the most important takeaways was to start with some kind of question or problem that will get students interested – something relevant and something they can connect to. To personalize the challenge more to your students, have them brainstorm the activities and vote on the final one.

The reasons to do design challenges are simple. They provide students with an opportunity to be creative and innovative and demonstrate that they can be more than one solution to a problem. Working in teams to find solutions to real-world problems helps students develop skills that will be applicable in college and career. It demonstrates that problem solving is about the process we use to get to the end result and that it’s not failure if you can learn from what didn’t work and adjust.

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A Soft Place to Land…

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-08-23 08:00

Guest post by Valerie Smith, a Technical Assistance Coach with KnowledgeWorks and Team Leader at Schenectady Smart Scholars Early College High School

I once read that “children who need the most love will sometimes ask for it in the most unloving ways.” I agree with that statement, but also believe some students need someone on their side, just because. I find it incumbent on me to give every kid a soft a place to land, and hope others in education feel the same.

For those who have already trudged through adolescence and have vivid recollections of the good, the bad, and ugly times of that phase, think back to who gave you a soft place to land.

During the school year, students spend upwards of 8 hours and day, for around 180 days, in school. We see them a lot. In class, in the halls, in the lunchroom – not to mention around the communities in which we live. We develop relationships, appreciate their humor, their perspectives on life (such as they are at 15), and do our best to support and guide them as they start coming in to their own. We offer them life lessons (even though they sometimes think we sprang fully formed as “old people”) while trying to instill the value of education. But as sometimes happens, life becomes overwhelming, filled with pressures, and at times can overpower even the most grounded individual.

Giving a kid a soft place to land provides room for them to tell us about their day or ask for help without sometimes even knowing they are reaching out to us.

While it’s a sliding scale, there is no student needier than another. There are students asking for help in the “most unloving ways,” but sometimes the students who just pop in to say “hi” are asking for love too.

Acknowledge them, listen to them, joke with them, and be that soft place for them to land.

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From City Centers to Cornfields: Educating all students for success

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-08-22 09:35

My school experience was based quite literally in the middle of cornfields.

Forty miles west of Chicago, the small suburb where I grew up was the last stop on the city’s Metra line. But with a suburban-raised mom and an Iowa farm-raised dad, it was a happy medium for our family.

Fortunately for students in the Kaneland School District, the location was also the happy medium for learning. Yes, we visited Garfield Farm Museum where we could pet chickens and churn butter, but we also ventured into the city to visit SUE the tyrannosaurus at the Field Museum and Van Gogh at the Art Institute of Chicago.

For a rural school, Kaneland had the resources to provide unique and effective learning opportunities to all students from kindergarten through high school graduation.

But not all rural schools are as lucky.

Students in rural areas often lack access to high-quality, well-resourced public education. Some struggle with transportation to and from school. Districts report shrinking student populations. The teacher workforce is increasingly more difficult to recruit and retain. And many rural schools are left out of the conversation when education debates and discussions are so focused on urban settings.

To better serve its rural students, South Dakota is increasing investment in and expanding the scope of a statewide e-learning center – a signal of change for rural education throughout the country.

South Dakota students, who otherwise might not have access to necessary courses, will now be able to join virtual classrooms led by qualified educators with years of classroom experience. Students and teachers are connected via cameras and monitors, and learners will be able to gain credit for the virtual courses.

Previously, the center was more geared toward high-achieving students, offering courses such as foreign languages and Advanced Placement courses. The new course offerings will be based on needs of schools throughout the state. They will also help fill a void if districts can’t find teachers, such as Waubay High School, according to eSchool News:

The school has taken advantage of classes like pre-calculus and physics, but this year all of its language arts courses will be taught via the Center for Statewide E-Learning.

The school had trouble filling the language arts position, and is subscribing to E-learning classes that are part of Dakota Digital Network, Jones said. The students in Waubay will be the only students taking those particular sessions of the language arts classes.

There will be a paraprofessional in the classroom to help students and keep things in line, Jones said. Classes are small at Waubay — about 50 students in grades nine through 12.

“It’s not like you have 25 or 30 in a classroom,” Jones said. “The smaller schools and the more rural you are, these are options you’re going to have to utilize to be able to keep up with the core classes.”

Last year, our strategic foresight team released “Cultivating Interconnections for Vibrant and Equitable Learning Ecosystems,” which explores how to build truly equitable learning opportunities for all students, regardless of zip code, background or income bracket. In the paper, the authors explore challenges to learning in rural, suburban, urban and incarcerated settings.

To remedy some of the challenges, the strategic foresight team argues a need to expand learning opportunities for students that fit in a local context. Just like South Dakota’s e-learning efforts.

It will take creativity. It will take a shift in conversation to include all students, no matter where they live. But we can give every learner interesting, engaging educational experiences that provide cultural perspective… whether they live in the middle of South Dakota or 40 miles west of Chicago.

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