High 5

High51When we're considering how to use technology in the classroom, we want to approach it with student impact in mind. How can we make our classrooms more engaging, make our teaching more effective, make our students more prepared for college and beyond? The High 5 are the 5 signature practices of blended learning at Alliance, which we will be adopting here at ReNEW. If you can forgive the campiness of the "High 5," I promise it will help you identify key areas that can leverage Chromebook use in your classrooms to improve student outcomes.

As you read through the High 5, identify just 1 or 2 signature practices for your school to focus on. You may notice some areas that you're already implementing successfully in your school, as well. We want to pick 1 or 2 for this coming year to focus our use of technology on - which I will support with targeted professional development for your teachers.

1. Index = Differentiated and Personalized Teaching and Learning

When we focus on differentiated instruction, we reach students in buckets (high/middle/low). When we personalize learning, we reach students in their Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) - the sweet spot between too easy and too hard that pushes students to achieve. We personalize instruction by adjusting the where, when, how, and what of student learning.  Giving students choice is an important piece of personalized learning, whether it be the method (through a video vs in person, using paper vs google doc), pace, path (same starting and end points, with options in between), or depth (exploring topics beyond their peers). 

A few ways to incorporate personalized learning in your school (from Next Generation Learning Challenges - NGLC):
  • Learner Profiles: Students' strengths & weaknesses, motivation, and goals are visible to them and their teachers. Profiles are constantly refreshed.
  • Personal Learning Paths: Each student follows a path through content and skills in ways that work best for him or her. Though students' paths vary, the destination is the same - clear, high expectations.
  • Competency-based Progression: Student learning is continually assessed against clearly defined expectations & goals. Each student advances as s/he demonstrates mastery.
  • Flexible Learning Environment: Time, space, roles and instructional modes flex with the needs of students and teachers rather than being fixed variables.

2. Middle = Data Driven Decisions Support Mastery-Based Learning

With the testing culture and increased use of Chromebooks, we've seen an increase in the amount of data collected by teachers. But how often are we using that data to improve our instruction? In a blended environment, data should be used to drive instruction and support mastery-based learning.  Data has the greatest potential impact on student impact - if used well. Technology allows us to collect, organize, and interpret data in far more efficient, time-sensitive, and simple ways. 

Using common formative assessment tools across your building will eliminate the time it takes teachers to grade or scan exit tickets, CFUs, and other formative assessments. Not only will it create efficiencies in your building, allowing teachers to focus on their instruction and planning, but it will also provide teachers (and students!) with real-time feedback that can influence instructional decisions in the moment. The potential for student impact is great with data driven instruction.

3. Ring = Integrated Digital Content and Learning Tools

The use of digital content and tools is critical to this success. From the outset, we must be strategic in which digital content and tools we choose to utilize, always vetting programs beforehand through in-school pilots and rigorous evaluation. Whenever we look at a potential tool or provider, it's critical that we view it through the lens of student outcomes. Will your students be served best by this tool? What percentage of your student population will reap the benefits? Are there other tools that may have a greater impact on student achievement? Does the application push students to think critically and lead to depth of understanding, or is it merely focused on memorization, basic skills, and low-level Bloom's? 

A blended program is only as successful as the fidelity with which it is implemented. The other critical aspect of this core expectation is commitment. As school leaders, you must commit to using the tools and programs which you are choosing. This means showing a willingness to strive on in the face of technical glitches, unresponsive providers, reluctant teachers, or other obstacles that will arise. Your teachers will follow your lead - if you say we can, they will find a way. Bring passion and excitement to the blended environment you've created, and you will be successful - no matter the challenge.

4. Pinky = Students as Creators and Producers

I would love to take credit for ReNEW's eventual shift towards content creation and away from content consumption, but you all know best - the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards have clearly established a need for more rigorous student work. By providing our students with opportunities to create, innovate, and problem-solve, we will be preparing them not only for the end-of-year assessments but - more importantly - for college and career.

Chromebooks allow for students to change their role - from consumer to producer - through a variety of programs that will push their critical thinking skills. We will work together to identify specific tools, applications, and programs for your students to use that allow them to prepare for the expectations of higher ed institutions and a 21st century professional environment.

5. Thumb = Student Agency and Ownership of Learning

If learning is truly personalized, it is learning that is owned by the student. Teaching our students to be self-directed and advocate for themselves will leave them to function effectively on their own. (Teach a man to fish...)

The college dropout rate of students from low-income communities is staggering, and one of the factors is academic preparedness. We know that academia looks quite different from our highly-structured schools. How can we bridge the gap and prepare our students to take responsibility for their learning? We want our kids to own their learning, to be self-directed, reflective, and engaged - without us. Allowing students choice in their learning, sharing feedback and accountability figures openly with students, and transferring the ownership from the teacher to the learner can prepare our students for success in college and beyond.

Major kudos to our partners - most notably Jonathan Tioncgo - at Alliance College-Ready Public Schools for their support, assistance, and willingness to share best practices.

To see Alliance's Framework for Effective Blended Teaching and Learning document in full format,