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Month: February 2019

Taking Personalized Learning to Scale

Aurora Institute (former iNACOL) defines personalized learning as “tailoring learning for each student’s strength, needs, and interests—including enabling student’s voice and choice in what, how, when, and where they learn—to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible.”

Dr. Monica Burns, curriculum and educational technology consultant and founder of, in a recent edWebinar, echoed this iNACOL concept. Before designing learning experiences that are personal to individual students, it is critical for classroom teachers and school leaders to identify student engagement, student interest, student choice, student voice, cross-curricular connections, and differentiated resources.

When it comes to student engagement, Burns said, “We want to make sure that we are capturing student attention by having students’ eyes where we want them to be or their hands where we want them to explore.” At the same time, it is essential to recognize that engagement looks different for every student in a classroom. By listening to what students are excited about and identifying their needs, teachers can provide a flexible learning environment that supports, energizes, and engages all individual learners.

Student choice and voice happens when students have opportunities to share what makes their interests unique and are active participants in conversations around success criteria and curriculum-based norms. How students demonstrate what they’ve learned and celebrated their learning journey is important to the personalized learning process as engagement, interest, voice, and choice.

Students can celebrate and share small learning wins through various personalized options such as text, graphics, collaborative discussions, and digital tools such as podcasts and videos. With their interests identified and supported, students get into the flow of learning and see the purpose of what they are doing in class.

Expanding your personalized-learning practice

To put personalized learning into practice, various cross-curricular connections need to happen across a grade-level team, school, and district. School districts can establish norms and clear standards connections for personalized student experiences through curriculum mapping, school-wide goals, and thematic exploration. Resources should be curated and differentiated and ready for individual students, “whether it is based on their particular reading levels, the way they like to engage with content in online and offline modes, or whether it is merely thinking about what gets them interested in a topic,” said Burns. Resources can be distributed to individual students using digital tools to experience content relevant to their goals and interests.

With adaptive-learning software, student’s learning journeys are customized and supported with resources based on their interest and excitement around particular subtopics while at the same time, allowing teachers to make data-driven educational decisions. Open-ended creation tools such as movie maker, website creator, and eBook tools provide opportunities for students to create concrete or tangible unit projects showing what they have learned.

How to expand personalized learning outward

Educational leaders need to model what a personalized learning environment looks like so that personalized learning happens more widely in classrooms, throughout buildings, and across the district.

Customizing professional development based on educators’ interests and needs and providing more flexibility for PLCs establishes norms and a culture that honors the personal experience that school leaders want for students. School leaders need to allow educators to have time to explore, plan, and reflect on the curation of resources and redesign classroom activities that honor student voice and choice. Along with modeling, school leaders need to support personalization by ensuring that the school community has the resources necessary to support every individual student.

Burns advised school leaders and classroom teachers that there are multiple ways to infuse personalized learning without feeling overwhelmed by the process. By “chunking it down” into daily, weekly, and monthly goals, finding tech partners, and keeping tool belts light, the school community can focus on one or two areas that feel manageable right now. She also advises leaders and teachers to share their personalized learning journey through social media and connect with other districts and teachers doing the same work.

Source: Taking personalized learning to scale eSchoolNews February 2019 

The Role of Educational Leaders in Sustainable Edtech Initiatives

“Small but mighty” is what I called my small rural Massachusetts school district when I recently presented to a leadership team that included district administrators, building administrators, and community members. In the past three years, our district, with its previously limited instructional technology, has morphed into a digitally equitable learning environment for all students. Transforming a school district into a lean, mean technology-rich machine is no small feat, and it requires educational leaders to reexamine the critical roles they play in this metamorphosis. 

These five critical behavioral components will be essential if educational leaders want to drive sustainable edtech initiatives thoughtfully, collaboratively, and effectively towards “mighty.”

1) Model 

Nothing tanks an initiative faster or ensures failure to reach district goals than the school community’s perception that their administrators have the “do what I say, not what I do’ mentality.  Well-intentioned administrators purchase devices for classroom instruction or commit to district-wide software programs but continue to stay in their comfort zone by not learning or using the new technology themselves. Educational leaders need to model technology like they are Tyra Banks on the fashion week runway.  Attend and be present at teacher edtech training, communicate with staff and faculty using collaborative online documents, make it a practice to use a school-issued Chromebook or iPad during classroom walkthroughs and facilitate staff meetings using the newly adopted presentation tools. Educational leaders who are involved and engaged with technology initiatives can significantly impact school culture and achieve district goals. 

2) Listen

So many district edtech initiatives suffer from the Oprah car syndrome where educational leaders are on the receiving end of “let’s give every student an iPad” or “let’s require all teachers to incorporate blended learning into their classroom instruction by the end of the first semester.”  These well-intentioned decisions can be disastrous when the very people impacted by these decisions are not heard. Dust collects classroom Chromebook carts, district-issued software programs only integrated into third-grade classrooms, and interactive whiteboards used as glorified projector screens. So, open up your ears wide like a cat outside a mouse hole and listen to ALL stakeholders. Just by walking through classes, meeting with curriculum leaders, creating student and parent focus groups, and being a presence in the hallways during passing times will educate leaders on what types and levels of instructional technology are sustainable and critical for our students and teachers.

3) Recruit

When school districts hire teachers who can text and “install,” it may be assumed that these new hires will be tech-savvy and drive technology initiatives. Sorry but you know what happens when you assume!  

Hiring a teacher who will support and drive edtech initiatives at the classroom level should not be based on anything but their courage and willingness to try and sometimes fail at new things that reach all of our students.  

Also, look both outside and inside the organization for innovative educators. Use the listening suggestion above to talk to students and teachers and consistently walk through classrooms to “recruit” teacher leaders.  I guarantee that you will tap into fantastic teachers already being change agents for education in your buildings. 

4) Showcase 

Everyone needs five minutes of fame as it ignites and energizes us to continue to grow and succeed. As educational leaders, we are not in the “it’s all about me” game. We are in our positions to lead, support, and guide students and teachers. Take every opportunity to showcase the classroom teachers in your district, who, every day, are driving the initiatives, improving student performance, creating an engaging curriculum, and provide students with collaborative learning environments. Make it “all about us” by showcasing the dedicated educators and students at every school board meeting, parent open house, edtech event, faculty meetings, and even on social media posts. These are your rock stars who will sell out the show and leave the audience wanting more.

5) Outreach

When it comes to proposed edtech initiatives, it can be challenging for educational leaders to provide the school board with concrete evidence of success. It feels like the final Jeopardy when leaders are put upon to answer the question, “what other districts in the county are doing?”. What if your district is the first in the county to offer mobile hotspots, devices for home use for students, new learning management systems, or even student data privacy policies. How do you answer that final jeopardy question? Be the leader, not the follower of edtech initiatives. Reach out to edtech organizations such as CoSN and ISTE for resources and case studies, contact your Twitter PLN peeps for their stories of success and join forces with local colleges and universities to underscore the importance of supporting our students from pre-K – postgrad. Make your little (or big) piece of the world exemplary for other districts to follow. 

Source: Tech&Learning

Strategies for Changing Challenging Behaviors of Students With Autism

“Every individual should be able to access things that they like,” said Monica Fisher, M.Ed., BCBA/COBA, director of the behavior department at Monarch Center for Autism during an edWebinar.

“It is our right to engage in preferred activities, spend time with family, and connect with the community. If there are behaviors that you are seeing in your students with disabilities and challenging behaviors that are limiting these rights, then it is something we need to fix as it can have a long-term impact on their quality of life.”

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), a technological and professional systematic approach, is designed to analyze and change behavior by identifying a behavioral problem, gathering relevant data, and formulating/testing a hypothesis. Fisher said that while ABA is a useful tool for looking at and changing the challenging behaviors of students with autism, it can apply to different parts of everyone’s lives.

Three-Term Contingency or ABC (Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence) goes hand in hand with ABA. ABC is an essential, evidence-based method of examining and changing what people say and do. Fisher explained, “If you want to change behavior, you have to look at the antecedent (action, event, or circumstance that occurs immediately before the behavior) and the consequences (action or response that immediately follows the behavior) applied.”

Challenging behavior
Challenging behaviors in the form of hitting, kicking, biting, and head-banging are not unique to students with autism. However, students with autism can also display challenging behaviors through physical and verbal aggression, self-injury, elopement, property destruction, tantrums, and non-compliance. According to ABA literature, there are four main functions of challenging behavior: attention, escape, access to tangibles, and automatic/sensory. Fisher expounded that it is essential to understand that all behaviors serve a function and they will persist if they are meeting a need for a student.

When a student receives attention after a problem behavior, it may increase the likelihood that the problem behavior will occur in the future under similar circumstances. When an individual engages in challenging behavior, it could be to escape or postpone an aversive event such as classwork or to be given access to tangibles and other reinforcing objects such as more computer time. The challenging behavior of automatic/sensory such as rocking or hand-slapping may reinforce on their own and does not depend on the actions or presence of others.

Important to remember
There are essential skills relating to the functions of behavior that should be taught to children at a young age that could decrease the chances that challenging behaviors will develop.

Challenging behaviors can have a long history of reinforcement, making them resistant to change, so Fisher advises that changes will take time and effort and data will play a significant role in analyzing the behavioral changes.

A teacher or parent may feel that the reinforcers for changing the challenging behavior are not sufficient, but once the data is analyzed, it may show that there is a slight change in the action. It is also critical that, when initially teaching a replacement behavior, the new skill needs to be low-effort and reinforced every time with a potent reinforcer. Finally, problem behavior has worked in the past to get the individual what they want or need so it is essential for teachers and parents to remember not to personalize a student’s challenging behavior.

Source: Strategies for changing challenging behaviors of students with autism eSchoolNews January 2019 


Data Access is Easier Than Ever, But is That a Good Thing?

Tactical student data privacy questions like “What can I do right now?” should be asked by all CIOs, teachers, administrators, and policymakers in this changing landscape of data access, student privacy, and interoperability. In a recent edWebinar, Dr. Larry Fruth, executive director and CEO of the Access 4 Learning (A4L) Community, and Jena Draper, founder, and general manager at CatchOn, discussed the challenges school districts face with data access and student privacy.

Dr. Fruth suggests that school districts hit the ground running by adding privacy components and security before it becomes a “What should I do right now?” situation.

Draper says that school districts need to look at data access from all angles, from the outer layer of the infrastructure to the rogue apps used in classrooms, to create sound data access and student data privacy plans.

The Data Balancing Act

Open access to data has the potential to violate student data privacy regulations, but closed access to data has the potential to lock everything down. The “sweet spot” of data access is critical in the environment where data is no longer used in a silo but used in data conversations around graduation rates, college readiness, and career pathways.

The challenge, as highlighted by Fruth, is how much data should be accessible to the stakeholders. If they have access to too much data, it will feel overwhelming, and if they don’t have enough access, they don’t feel empowered to do what they need to do. For student interoperability frameworks, Fruth explains that the goal is to create a simple data exchange across all the different digital ecosystem applications. The reality of interoperability is that data exchange can seem to be simple but is complex. However, no matter how involved and complicated the data management issues are, it needs to be managed, moved, and secured as school districts go through daily operations.

Student Data Privacy: It’s what you don’t know

“The tools school districts should be most concerned about are the ones they don’t even know are being used,” said Draper. She pointed out that there are 3,500 edtech apps available for classroom use, but there are many more tools and apps that teachers and students find on their own. These “rogue” apps collect student data and have the potential to be harmful to students and schools.

School leaders should monitor data access in their district by communicating with teachers about the list of district-approved apps and educating them on the district’s, state’s, or region’s privacy policies and regulation. By understanding which tools and apps have access to student data, districts can build a safe student data privacy practice in line with their technology strategy.

According to Draper, since 2013, there have been over 500 student data privacy bills proposed in the United States, and this number is expected to double in 2019. States are increasing their legislation, and organizations such as CoSN and SETDA are doing work around helping districts “get their teeth around” creating sound student data policies. Access to student data is a hot topic in New York, Florida, and Louisiana, where legislators have created laws that specifically identify what school districts need to understand about what information is going out and what apps have access to their data.

Source: eSchoolNews
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