The Key to Successful Expanded Learning Programs Is Mastery

(artvea/istockphoto)

(artvea/istockphoto)

A well-rounded education is defined by a broader set of outcomes than traditionally outlined in academic standards and standardized tests. Educators and other stakeholders alike are increasingly interested in the so-called soft skills related to social and emotional learning, creativity and innovation, and citizenship.

But how do we ensure that all students, especially disadvantaged students, have sufficient time and opportunity to attain all the skills needed for college, career, and the global innovation economy beyond?

“Expanded learning” has become a catchphrase for a variety of different models that aim to expand learning time and experiences for students. Some models provide more time for learning by extending the school day and school year. Other models restructure the school schedule and leverage school-based afterschool and summer programs provided by community partners to expand access to hands-on learning experiences—in core subjects as well as others that have been increasingly cut from the school day, such as arts and music or health and wellness. A variety of models focus on leveraging technology through blended learning, flipped classroom, and “anywhere, anytime” opportunities that extend and expand learning beyond the school classroom and calendar. Still others focus on providing credit for learning that takes place outside the school day and beyond the school building, whether formal course credit, elective credit, or informal credit in the form of a digital badge.

Despite being driven by the need to graduate students who are proficient across a broader set of outcomes than those currently defined in the standards and assessed through standardized tests, few of the emerging expanded learning models are operating in the context of an established mastery-based or competency-based system. And yet, to ensure expanded learning programs are successful, one must be able to to recognize learning reliably and authentically based on students’ demonstrated mastery of a defined set of competencies.

This presents significant opportunities as well as challenges. On the one hand, expanded learning models represent an opportunity to consider education reform from the context of the student, rather than the system. Expanded learning is creating new approaches to organizing education around student needs and interests, regardless of when, where, how, or with whom learning happens. However, expanded learning cannot be successful without an established system for defining what criteria constitute accomplishment of learning, and how those criteria will be measured in a way that is valid and reliable. Otherwise, expanded learning may eventually be seen as a more relevant but ultimately less rigorous way to earn credit.

While policy catches up to the vision for competency-based systems, schools, afterschool providers, and community partners can start supporting shifts in practice. One of the important cornerstones of competency-based education is authenticity. Authentic learning is what afterschool programs do inherently, but many are not yet at the level of rigor required in a competency-based system.

Expanded learning programs need to:

  • Commit to focus learning around specific outcomes shared across the school and community that are “Common Core and more,” addressing the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that students will need to succeed in the world beyond school.
  • Provide high-quality project-based learning experiences that are aligned to competencies and engage students in the meaningful work of professionals in the real world.
  • Collaborate with schools and districts to support performance-based assessments that measure to what extent students can actually apply the knowledge and skills contained in the competencies and standards.

While all three of these things are fundamental to a competency-based system, they are also just good practice and can strengthen expanded learning programs, while at the same time preparing them to be strong partners to schools in a competency-based system.

25
Nov 2015
POSTED BY Jeff
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Educational Technology Isn’t Leveling the Playing Field

Library Kids.
Affluent kids receive more guidance in libraries—new computers or not—than poor kids do.

Courtesy of Shutterstock.

The local name for the Philadelphia neighborhood of Kensington is “the Badlands,” and with good reason. Pockmarked with empty lots and burned-out row houses, the area has an unemployment rate of 29 percent and a poverty rate of 90 percent. Just a few miles to the northwest, the genteel neighborhood of Chestnut Hill seems to belong to a different universe. Here, educated professionals shop the boutiques along Germantown Avenue and return home to gracious stone and brick houses, the average price of which hovers above $400,000.

Within these very different communities, however, are two places remarkably similar in the resources they provide: the local public libraries. Each has been retooled with banks of new computers, the latest software and speedy Internet access. Susan B. Neuman, a professor of early childhood and literacy education at NYU, and Donna C. Celano, an assistant professor of communication at LaSalle University in Philadelphia, spent hundreds of hours in the Chestnut Hill and Badlands libraries, watching how patrons used the books and computers on offer.

The two were especially interested in how the introduction of computers might “level the playing field” for the neighborhoods’ young people, children of “concentrated affluence” and “concentrated poverty.” They undertook their observations in a hopeful frame of mind: “Given the wizardry of these machines and their ability to support children’s self-teaching,” they wondered, “might we begin to see a closing of the opportunity gap?”

Many hours of observation and analysis later, Neuman and Celanano were forced to acknowledge a radically different outcome: “The very tool designed to level the playing field is, in fact, un-leveling it,” they wrote in a 2012 book based on their Philadelphia library study. With the spread of educational technology, they predicted, “the not-so-small disparities in skills for children of affluence and children of poverty are about to get even larger.”

Neuman and Celano are not the only researchers to reach this surprising and distressing conclusion. While technology has often been hailed as the great equalizer of educational opportunity, a growing body of evidence indicates that in many cases, tech is actually having the opposite effect: It is increasing the gap between rich and poor, between whites and minorities, and between the school-ready and the less-prepared.

This is not a story of the familiar “digital divide”—a lack of access to technology for poor and minority children. This has to do, rather, with a phenomenon Neuman and Celano observed again and again in the two libraries: Granted access to technology, affluent kids and poor kids use tech differently. They select different programs and features, engage in different types of mental activity, and come away with different kinds of knowledge and experience.

The unleveling impact of technology also has to do with a phenomenon known as the “Matthew Effect”: the tendency for early advantages to multiply over time. Sociologist Robert Merton coined the term in 1968, making reference to a line in the gospel of Matthew (“for whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath”).

In a paper published in 1986, psychologist Keith Stanovich applied the Matthew Effect to reading. He showed that children who get off to a strong early start with reading acquire more vocabulary words and more background knowledge, which in turn makes reading easier and more enjoyable, leading them to read still more: a virtuous cycle of achievement. Children who struggle early on with reading fail to acquire vocabulary and knowledge, find reading even more difficult as a result, and consequently do it less: a dispiriting downward spiral.

Now researchers are beginning to document a digital Matthew Effect, in which the already advantaged gain more from technology than do the less fortunate. As with books and reading, the most-knowledgeable, most-experienced, and most-supported students are those in the best position to use computers to leap further ahead. For example: In the Technology Immersion Pilot, a $20 million project carried out in Texas public schools beginning in 2003, laptops were randomly assigned to middle school students. The benefit of owning one of these computers, researchers later determined, was significantly greater for those students whose test scores were high to begin with.

Some studies of the introduction of technology have found an overall negative effect on academic achievement—and in these cases, poor students’ performance suffers more than that of their richer peers. In an article to be published next month in the journal Economic Inquiry, for example, Duke University economist Jacob Vigdor and co-authors Helen Ladd and Erika Martinez report their analysis of what happened when high-speed Internet service was rolled out across North Carolina: Math and reading test scores of the state’s public school students went down in each region as broadband was introduced, and this negative impact was greatest among economically disadvantaged students. Dousing the hope that spreading technology will engender growing equality, the authors write: “Reliable evidence points to the conclusion that broadening student access to home computers or home Internet service would widen, not narrow, achievement gaps.”

Why would improved access to the Internet harm the academic performance of poor students in particular? Vigdor and his colleagues speculate that “this may occur because student computer use is more effectively monitored and channeled toward productive ends in more affluent homes.” This is, in fact, exactly the dynamic Susan Neuman and Donna Celano saw playing out in the libraries they monitored. At the Chestnut Hill library, they found, young visitors to the computer area were almost always accompanied by a parent or grandparent. Adults positioned themselves close to the children and close to the screen, offering a stream of questions and suggestions. Kids were steered away from games and toward educational programs emphasizing letters, numbers, and shapes. When the children became confused or frustrated, the grown-ups guided them to a solution.

The Badlands library boasted computers and software identical to Chestnut Hill’s, but here, children manipulated the computers on their own, while accompanying adults watched silently or remained in other areas of the library altogether. Lacking the “scaffolding” provided by the Chestnut Hill parents, the Badlands kids clicked around frenetically, rarely staying with one program for long. Older children figured out how to use the programs as games; younger children became discouraged and banged on the keyboard or wandered away.

These different patterns of use had quantifiable effects on the children’s educational experiences, Neuman and Celano showed. Chestnut Hill preschoolers encountered twice as many written words on computer screens as did Badlands children; the more affluent toddlers received 17 times as much adult attention while using the library’s computers as did their less privileged counterparts. The researchers documented differences among older kids as well: Chestnut Hill “tweens,” or 10- to 13-year-olds, spent five times as long reading informational text on computers as did Badlands tweens, who tended to gravitate toward online games and entertainment. When Badlands tweens did seek out information on the Web, it was related to their homework only 9 percent of the time, while 39 percent of the Chestnut Hill tweens’ information searches were homework-related.

Research is finding other differences in how economically disadvantaged children use technology. Some evidence suggests, for example, that schools in low-income neighborhoods are more apt to employ computers for drill and practice sessions than for creative or innovative projects. Poor children also bring less knowledge to their encounters with computers. Crucially, the comparatively rich background knowledge possessed by high-income students is not only about technology itself, but about everything in the wide world beyond one’s neighborhood. Not only are affluent kids more likely to know how to Google; they’re more likely to know what to Google for.

Slogans like “one laptop per child” and “one-to-one computing” evoke an appealingly egalitarian vision: If every child has a computer, every child is starting off on equal footing. But though the sameness of the hardware may feel satisfyingly fair, it is superficial. A computer in the hands of a disadvantaged child is in an important sense not the same thing as a computer in the hands of a child of privilege.

The focus of educators, politicians, and philanthropists on differences in access to technology has obscured another problem: what some call “the second digital divide,” or differences in the use of technology. Access to adequate equipment and reliable high-speed connections remains a concern, of course. But improving the way that technology is employed in learning is an even bigger and more important issue. Addressing it would require a focus on people: training teachers, librarians, parents and children themselves to use computers effectively. It would require a focus on practices: what one researcher has called the dynamic “social envelope” that surrounds the hunks of plastic and silicon on our desks. And it would require a focus on knowledge: background knowledge that is both broad and deep. (The Common Core standards, with their focus on building broad background knowledge, may be education’s most significant contribution to true computer literacy.)

It would take all this to begin to “level the playing field” for America’s students—far more than a bank of computers in a library, or even one laptop per child.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet based at Teachers College, Columbia University.

21
Nov 2015
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The Tragedy of Student Loans

 

One of the big scams going around right now is student loans for individuals attending for-profit universities. It goes something like this: Heavy advertising for pain free, at-your leisure online or on-site degrees—encouraging students to take on a large debt load to pay for their studies—and then frequently little (if any) support for students, inadequate classes, and difficulty transferring credits to other institutions. The dropout rate is typically substantial. Personal student debt is growing at a staggering rate.

Here’s the thing though—students at for-profit institutions represent only 9% of all college students, but receive roughly 25% of all federal Pell Grants and loans, and are responsible for 44% of all student loan defaults.

study by The National Bureau of Economic Research, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, suggested that students who attend for-profit education institutions are more likely to be unemployed, earn less, have higher debt levels, and are more likely to default on their student loans than similar students at non-profit educational institutions. Although for-profits typically serve students who are poorer or more likely to be minorities, these differences do not explain the differences in employment, income, debt levels, and student loan defaults. The Government Accountability Office has also found that graduates of for-profits are less likely to pass licensing exams, and that poor student performance cannot be explained by different student demographics.

For-profits have higher completion rates for one- and two-year associate’s degree programs, but higher dropout rates for four-year bachelor’s degrees. However, studies have suggested that one- and two-year programs typically do not provide much economic benefit to students because the boost to wages is more than offset by increased debt. By contrast, four-year programs provide a large economic benefit.

An investigation by the New York Times suggested that for-profit higher education institutions typically have much higher student loan default rates than non-profits. Two documentaries by Frontline have focused on alleged abuses in for profit higher education.

The following infographic from Collegestats.org will give you a good visual of what’s going on with student debt. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve always thought that the fundamental purpose of an educational institution should be to educate, not to turn a profit.

 

The Tragedy of Student Loans

What Did 2013 Hold for Educational Technology in Schools

Looking back at the article I was astounded to find that basically none of the information in the first chart was relevant and the proposal that “Apps” would be the prevalent part of the year actually was/is true. 
via Smartblogs/Katharine Haber

To connect with those working on the front lines of education technology, SmartBrief on EdTech editor Katharine Haber asked readers about their thoughts on what 2013 will bring for technology in schools.

According to our results, about one-third of respondents see classroom technology as the most significant issue on the horizon, while a slightly smaller group is concerned about online education, followed by computer-based testing and digital citizenship.

When asked how their schools and districts are using technology to enhance student learning, a majority of respondents reported that some teachers are employing tech tools in the classroom, while a significantly smaller proportion said technology is playing a broader role throughout the curriculum or being integrated through blended-learning programs or “bring your own technology” programs.

Readers reported that online applications and games are the most effective tools for engaging students, while digital textbooks and resources, along with mobile devices, are not far behind.

Interestingly, few respondents see social media as an effective tool. Given the ongoing buzz about Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, this response begs the question of whether many schools simply are not using social media as part of classroom instruction.

There are arguably numerous factors to consider when using social media with students, and many schools and districts might be blocking or otherwise prohibiting use of such websites on campus. However, given their popularity, is it possible there is an untapped resource here? What do you think?

What do you see as the most significant issue in education technology for 2013?

Technology in the classroom

33.88%

Online education

25.62%

Computer-based testing

21.49%

Digital citizenship

19.01%

Which statement best describes how your school or district is integrating technology into student learning?

Some teachers use tech tools as part of classroom lessons

63.78%

Technology is integrated throughout the curriculum

19.69%

Our school/district has a bring-your-own-device policy

8.66%

Our school/district employs blended learning

7.87%

Which tech tools most effectively engage students in your classroom, school or district?

Online apps and games

40%

Digital textbooks and resources

28.89%

Mobile devices

27.78%

Social media

3.33%

Katharine Haber is an associate editor for SmartBrief, writing and editing content about a variety of topics in education.

Great Post by David Warlick

via 2¢ Worth

Today’s infographic is simple and to the point. A big part of grade school and even college and onward, is writing papers. Some professions write more papers than others, but it is still an important skill in order to get your point across. This infographic uses venn diagrams to convey the importance of different parts of papers, and to show how they interact with one another. It also shows how much of your paper should include each part.

Of course every paper should begin with an introduction and end with a conclusion. It should also include several point in the middle, that are introduced and concluded in the introduction and conclusion. But how should the middle be laid out? That is up to the author, but it should there is a bit of a formula.

This infographic does a great job of showing that there should be pros and cons. You should always share how your paper may be argued against, and go ahead and prove some of these points wrong. In addition, a good paper should show why the information is important. Why should someone read your paper?

Show this to your students whenever a paper is assigned. Make sure your students are ready to write a good paper, and know what is involved in writing such a paper.

 

write-your-paper-right

http://visual.ly/write-your-paper-right

How to Support Teachers for 21st Century Learning

via eClassroom News

Experts weigh in on how administrators can support teachers in implementing collaboration and creativity

Implementing broad concepts like critical thinking and communication may seem like natural next steps to educators, but unless teachers receive support from school policy and infrastructure, providing students with a true 21st century education may not be so easy.

This was a key topic of discussion during a recent Connected Educator Month webinar, hosted by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) and EdLeader21—a national network of school and district leaders focused on integrating the 4Cs into education.

The 4Cs–communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity–are part of P21’s mission to help educators teach students 21st century skills. Webinar panelists said this task can’t be accomplished without support from school administrators in the way of space design, instructional practices, and school policy.

Dana Strother, chief academic officer at Douglas County School District in Colorado, said her district “looked at Bloom’s Taxonomy and vetted our state’s standards through the taxonomy” during an evaluation of instructional practice.

“Areas that were lacking we improved through what we call ‘World Class Outcomes,’ and instructional design that allows for the 4Cs. We also provided CIA curriculum and instruction alignment and wove authentic learning experiences into the curriculum for support,” she said.

The district also made it a priority to provide supporting infrastructure through district policy on risk-opportunities.

“It’s important to let teachers know, in various ways, but also through policy, that we support risk-taking opportunities, or new strategies, projects, or professional development opportunities that may be new or unique,” she said.

For example, Douglas County lets teachers experience inquiry-based professional development opportunities in order for teachers to learn through the same practices they’re expected to teach students.

“We’re asking teachers to incorporate new kinds of teaching that include the 4Cs, so why should teachers in turn be taught in a different manner? Sometimes by thinking outside of the box and going against traditional methods, especially from an administrator standpoint, the results are better,” Strother said.

Randy Fielding, chairman and founding partner of educational facilities planning and architectural design firm Fielding Nair International, said he believes school design also factors heavily into incorporating the 4Cs into a student’s daily life.

Fielding’s design firm tries to incorporate 20 “learning modalities” into school design, which include concepts, such as Independent Study, Peer Tutoring, Team Collaboration, and One-on-One Learning, to support the 4Cs of instruction.

“To have a truly 21st-century school, you have to inspire organic collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and communication, and focusing on design can help.”

“To have a truly 21st-century school, you have to inspire organic collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and communication, and focusing on design can help. For example, you could have a ‘watering hole’ space off hallways where students could casually converse; you could have a ‘cave space’ where students could reflect for independent thinking; and you could have a ‘campfire space’ where everyone gathers to collaborate,” Fielding said.

Panelists emphasized that it’s also important for administrators and teachers to understand that instruction focused on the 4Cs doesn’t just work for certain kinds of subjects, students, or teachers.

“The 4Cs work for every kind of student and teacher in classrooms across the country,” said Donna Harris-Aikens, director of Education Policy and Practice at the National Education Association (NEA). “It’s less a series of requirements and more just authentic learning. For example, a math class could use its English and design skills to help draft a proposal to help senior citizens in their community make their homes more accessible. For this kind of project, you need the 4Cs in STEM, English, and community service.”

Fielding said it’s important that school and district leaders support teachers in working together to develop collaborative projects for their students.

One of the schools his firm works with has a student-run lunch program through which students negotiate with local farmers. They serve the week’s menu selections on carts around the school so students can taste-test their creations. Students in the program generate quarterly reports on profit and loss, and send those reports off to the school board.

“Students get credit for working in this program, which essentially teaches them collaboration skills, analytical skills, and even creative skills, thanks to cooking,” he said.

However, panelists said that there are still barriers for teachers who want to pursue the 4Cs, including getting first-world experience on how to actually teach broad concepts like creativity.

“That’s why we introduced the Creative Innovator Network in our district, which allows teachers to collaborate with not only their peers on different projects, but also local businesses to brainstorm ideas on how students can better serve the community,” said Strother. “We also bring students into the teacher professional development sessions to hear their voice and how they enjoy learning, so that teachers can adapt their instruction.”

“The biggest barrier for teachers is time,” said Harris-Aikens. “Finding time to make everything work effectively and collaborate is hard, especially because planning, or collaborating, time needs to be on a consistent and continual basis. Students also need a large amount of time to work on these projects, and to have time flexibility in case they make mistakes, as well. Administrators need to make sure teachers and students can have that time in their day.”

For more on this topic, watch the full webinar.

27 Ways to Reflect Upon Your Teaching Practice

February 23, 2015 Reflection and reflexivity are two meta-cognitive processes that we constantly need to exercise in order to guarantee an effective and healthy professional and also emotional growth. Unless you take a pause and think deeply about what you are doing and how you are doing it, you will never get to learn about your weaknesses and strengths. You won’t be able to stop navel-gazing and…

The 7C’s of Effective Communication

February 24, 2015 Following the post we shared here a few weeks ago featuring some useful resources to help teachers and educators master the art of presenting, somebody sent us this beautiful visual which ties in with the theme of that post. 7 Cs of Effective Communication is a work from Brainy Quote and Evan Carmichael. The visual  outlines some interesting strategies to keep in mind when…

5 Methods for Developing Problem Solving Skills

 

February 17, 2015 Here is a wonderful visual from Eye on Education featuring 5 methods for developing problem-solving skills. This work is adapted from Ben Johnson’s book “ Teaching Students to Dig Deeper; The Common Core in Action”. The methods advocated here include: brainstorming, word association, Inkblot test, solute vs solution, gallery walk. Each of these methods is explained and illustrated…

 

Seeking Knowledge

February 16, 2015 “Human beings have always been seekers of knowledge. The minute we discover something new, we want to share it with others and move onto the next achievement. Since the beginning of recorded history (and probably before) we have always strived to discover the mysteries of the planet, of Earth and of ourselves. How has learning evolved over the course of human history and what might…