Category Archives: Technology in Schools

Informal classroom observations – not just for principals anymore

classroom observationOver the past 10 years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of principals and central office administrators about their successes and challenges with conducting informal classroom walkthroughs—observations that are done for professional development coaching and monitoring rather than for formal evaluation purposes. While many of these school and district leaders say that there are benefits to doing these walkthroughs—such as improving PD effectiveness, increasing collaborative staff dialogue, and building a purposeful school community—they often struggle to find time to conduct the walkthroughs because of how much else is on their plate during busy school days.

A solution I’ve seen many successful principals employ over the last few years is to bring other observers into the fold, engaging instructional coaches, peer coaches, and other teacher leaders in the process. What these principals found is that sharing walkthrough responsibilities with these additional staff not only saved time, but it instilled higher levels of trust and transparency throughout their building and helped more of their instructional team members understand and rally around common goals and initiatives.

Benefits for coaches and teachers

Walkthroughs provide real-time feedback and an opportunity for staff to learn and grow by observing their peers’ classrooms and having structured peer coaching conversations. Staff become stronger leaders, improve their own practices, collaborate and share ideas and suggestions, and provide feedback to their peers, creating a collegial environment that supports professional growth and improvement. Protocols and tools that leverage the data can help staff deepen their professional dialogue using evidence, develop and achieve SMART goals, and self-reflect on their practices for professional growth.

Conduct video walkthroughs for coaching

If lack of face-to-face time impedes the ability to conduct walkthroughs, teachers can record a classroom lesson and send the video to designated staff members for time-stamped formative feedback, not just compliments and praise, on their instruction. This gives teachers an opportunity to receive feedback, but also to self-reflect on practice—crucial to their own instructional growth—by seeing the lesson objectively. Follow-up coaching conversations, in which the lesson is discussed, feedback is shared, and suggestions for more effective classroom delivery are provided (a glow and a grow), can help increase teaching efficacy.

Driving better PD planning, monitoring, and outcomes

Ultimately, the data gleaned from your informal walkthroughs will help your coaching and leadership teams better determine the professional development needs of your staff, gauge the value of PD sessions already delivered, and document outcomes needed for grant proposals and district reports. Perhaps even more importantly, the honest conversations your team has about the walkthrough findings can also introduce ideas for systemic changes within the school, creating a growth-oriented culture among staff members.

A supportive, visionary leader can build a strong team of instructional coaches and teachers who can help ALL teachers identify what they are doing well and areas where they need support.

6a010536aec25c970b01a3fd216cb0970bLisa Maxfield is a program manager at McREL who works with clients of McREL’s EmpowerED Suite, which includes the Power Walkthrough® informal walkthrough software, on effective protocols for supporting educators’ professional growth. Listening closely to clients’ needs and successes, she also works with the application’s developers on enhancements to the walkthrough platform’s templates, ease-of-use, and dashboard reporting functionality.

 


McREL’s EmpowerED Suite helps educators, from the classroom to the central office, maximize their potential to improve professional practices and make a difference in student achievement. The EmpowerED Suite, which contains five powerful applications—Power Walkthrough®, Coaching, Reflection, Evaluation, and Survey—collectively helps an entire school or district build a shared language and focus to deepen professional growth, expand skills, and improve instruction. Power Walkthrough can be used as an individual component or as part of the complete Suite. Learn more about McREL’s EmpowerED Suite.

Career Readiness: What does it really mean and how do we get there?

Teacher helping two students build a robotic arm in their design and technology lessonSchool systems across the country are being pushed to re-think their approach to Career Technical Education (CTE) and what it means to be “career-ready.” Job markets are continually changing, and it’s become more critical than ever that secondary students are prepared for college and career upon graduation. While many educators have equated career readiness to college readiness, others have begun to take a more nuanced approach, understanding that not all careers—like students—fit the same mold (Conley & McGaughy, 2012; DeWitt, 2012).

In 2015, ACT refined its definitions of the types of academic skills required for work: Work readiness skills are the academic skills required of all students to be prepared for the workplace; career readiness skills are those particular academic skills needed to work in a given industry; and job readiness skills are the particular academic skills needed for a specific job.

At McREL, our review of CTE-related certifications, standards, curriculum documents, and textbooks in nearly a dozen industries and career pathways has confirmed that the academic content required by various industries and jobs can differ greatly.

While conducting alignment studies between CTE content and academic standards in math, science, and language arts, we found that, while a few academic skills are required by most careers, many needed academic skills are specific to an industry or job position. In some ways, this finding is not terribly surprising. It is easy to recognize that, for example, a career in nursing requires far more knowledge of biology than does a career in plumbing. Yet, both nurses and plumbers use measuring tools and solve complex problems. And, further, the type of biology knowledge needed to begin a career differs significantly between optometry and dentistry.

While different career paths require many different skills, some academic content is fundamental to working in most, if not all, industries. Across industries, technical vocabulary and workplace jargon (what the Common Core calls “domain-specific” words) are key to understanding technical content and being able to communicate effectively with colleagues. In math, many jobs require students to apply business math, measure, and work with decimals, fractions, and percentages.

While academic skills such as learning vocabulary and measuring may not be among the most rigorous identified by college- and career-ready standards, when students apply these basic academic understandings and skills to workplace situations, the task difficulty level can increase significantly. The depth of understanding required to solve real-world problems or make contextual decisions increases as students draw on learned knowledge and skills. For example, it may not be difficult for a culinary student to measure ingredients while following the steps in a written recipe, but adjusting or adapting that recipe will demand a deeper understanding of how to divide fractions, as well as understand how the proportion among ingredients interacts with temperature and other elements of cooking to create a delicious dish. Many educators and organizations have identified the importance of these critical thinking skills in the workplace (For more on this, refer to the additional resources at the end of this post).

The good news is that the ability to think critically and problem solve in real-world contexts is not only highly valued by employers, but is also an effective way to motivate and engage all students. Captivated learners enjoy working toward tangible goals by creating real products and delivering services. Additionally, McREL’s research-supported model of effective school systems finds student curiosity central to meeting high expectations for student learning, as illustrated in our most recent whitepaper, The Road Less Traveled.

Ultimately, as career training programs and academic education systems work together to prepare students for their future careers, it’s important that we acknowledge the differences among learning benchmarks that mark a variety of career pathways. While a solid foundation of academic skills will pave the way for students to enter a variety of career fields, it’s also vitally important that we recognize students’ ambitions and design learning opportunities that engage them in rigorous ways with content relevant to their career goals. If we design programs that address academic skills within real-world projects and learning opportunities, not only will we better prepare our students for their future careers, but we will also motivate them to learn more. For now, this might be the road less traveled but, in the long run, what we really want is for students to get the most mileage possible from their education, regardless of which road they take.

Additional Resources

ACTE. (2010).   What is “Career Ready”? Association for Career and Technical Education: Alexandria, VA. Available from https://www.acteonline.org/general.aspx?id=1964#.V8RNYWfrtD8

Conley, D. T. (2012). A complete definition of college and career readiness. Educational Policy Improvement Center: Eugene, OR.  Available from http://www.epiconline.org

Mattern, K.; Burrus, J.; Camara, W.; O’Connor, R.; Hanson, M.A., Gambrell, J.; Casillas, A.; & Bobek, B. (2014). Broadening the Definition of College and Career Readiness: A Holistic Approach. ACT Research Report Series. Iowa City, IA. Available from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED555591.pdf

Citations

Conley, D. T., & McGaughy, C. (2012). College and career readiness: Same or different? Educational Leadership, 69(7), 28. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1008639706?accountid=144346

DeWitt, S. (2012). Career readiness: Has its time finally come? Techniques: Connecting Education and Careers (J3), 87(3), 16-19. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1238187763?accountid=144346

SusanRyan_2014_webMcREL consultant Susan Ryan conducts curriculum alignment reviews, and develops/revises academic content standards in language arts, social studies, and career and technical education areas for districts, state agencies, and other organizations. Prior to joining McREL, she was a high school language arts teacher.

Today’s “high tech” students need “high touch” learning environments

texting during classWe’ve all seen it: A group of teenagers sitting together, perhaps at a restaurant or the mall, but all of them glued to their phones, barely interacting with the friends right next to them. As common as this sight has become, it still gives us pause. What, you may wonder, is this doing to our kids?

In September’s Educational Leadership, McREL’s Bryan Goodwin takes a look at the effects of our “plugged in” culture on students and their teachers. One clear effect, he finds, is how students relate to others: One analysis of more than 70 student surveys, for example, found that empathy among college students is at its lowest level since 1979—a whopping 40 percent lower.

Not surprisingly, researchers and educators alike have noted a loss in the ability of students to have deep, empathic conversations. In an article for The Atlantic, one such teacher in Kentucky described how, in a classroom interview activity, most of his high school students were unable to move beyond the scripted questions and engage in more spontaneous, authentic dialogue. His solution? He asked his students to record their conversations on their smartphones, watch them later, and self-assess their conversation skills.

Teachers need to keep in mind, too, the importance of modeling empathy. Goodwin notes a recent Stanford study, in which middle school math teachers who engaged in an exercise on the importance of empathy cut in half the percentage of student suspensions over the school year (from 9.6% to 4.8%).

Today more than ever, teachers need to show and model empathy and provide opportunities for students to make real human connections, Goodwin concludes. While we can’t expect kids to give up their phones altogether, we can help them balance their “high tech” lives with “high touch” learning environments.

You can read Bryan’s entire Research Matters column here.

Posted by McREL International.

Look Before You Launch: 6 questions to ask before you add more tech to your school

Over many years of guiding schools and districts on integrating technology and instruction, the costliest mistake I see is the rush to purchase hardware and software without first identifying a clear purpose and plan for the new technology. This kind of oversight can lead to misuse or neglect of expensive equipment and systems, resulting in little of the intended impact on student learning outcomes. Before you add new technologies to your school or district, here are six vital questions—and a few related ones—I recommend you ask first to help you look before you launch.

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Mobile devices: “If you can’t beat them, teach them”

As you start reading this, stop and take note—how far away is your smartphone? When did you last check it? Did you check it just now? You’re not alone. In just a few short years, many of us have become addicted to our mobile devices. They’re nearly always within arm’s reach, and many of us cannot help ourselves from checking them (or fixating on them) regularly, no matter where we are, what we’re doing, or who we’re with.

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Sometimes the best technology is no technology

In 1989, I became the principal of a technology magnet school. Nine years later, I was named an Apple Distinguished Educator. As the lead author of Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, 2nd Ed. (2012), I remain an active proponent of technology-infused learning. Technology enables learners to do or create things that might not otherwise be possible. Knowing all of this, you might ask why I, of all people, would ever advise educators to restrict technology in the classroom.

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GreenSTEM: Inspiring and empowering learners to change the world

How do we teach our students to pursue a line of inquiry that connects personal, community, and global decisions to an understanding of relevant science, technology, engineering, and math? “GreenSTEM” is an engaging and innovative approach for both students and teachers.
In an effort to distinguish traditional science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs from those with a focus on ecology and sustainability, some educators have recently been adding “green” to STEM programs. The concept is so new that a standard definition of GreenSTEM—one that fuses the real-world connections intrinsic to STEM learning with the deeper concept of sustainability—has yet to be penned.

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Our 10 (or 11) most popular blog posts of 2014

Educators face many challenges each day—large and small—that when addressed effectively have the ability to inspire better teaching, leading, and learning. Our staff continually ask themselves the same question you might ask yourself: As educators, how can we make a bigger, better difference in student engagement and knowledge?

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Leveraging technology to focus on learning

Mobile technologies are an integral part of our daily lives. Where is the closest gas station? Ask Siri. Which toaster is best for my needs? Check customer reviews on Amazon.com. Going out to dinner with friends? Ask Yelp for a good restaurant within five miles of your house, make reservations on OpenTable, and forward the reservation to your friends, complete with driving directions. Mobile technologies have made our lives easier and are transforming the way we work and get things done. It isn’t about the device, but what the devices allow us to do. How can we translate this savvy use of technology into classroom learning experiences?

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What’s STEM got to do with it?

Meaningful careers. Financial stability. Happiness. That’s what we all want for the future of our students, right? This might feel like an abstract, far-off concept when working with elementary school students. However, the foundation built during these formative years is exactly what supports achieving those goals. How do we cultivate the curiosity, tenacity, and student empowerment to help our students realize that future? Think: Science… Technology… Engineering… Math.

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