Sunday, October 20, 2013

What has changed, what is the same?

Going back to college after 34 years is a revelation. Not so much because I have not been learning since I left, but because what I am doing in my class has an immediate and relevant relationship to what I am doing in my work. It is exciting and enriching to think about what I am doing, and why I am doing it, instead of just going to class and completing the assignments. Reflecting on what underlies what I do gives me the opportunity to adjust thoughtfully; not just react. During this class, I even thought for a bit that college belonged after gaining life experience, but that is not exactly right. I think more, that advanced education should accompany work. As a pre-service teacher, taking advanced classes in education goes into the “this may apply someday” file instead of the “I can work on this tomorrow” file. When we rehearse and elaborate on our new learning (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011a) it becomes deeply embedded and more easily retrieved. Thinking of ways to incorporate new knowledge into our work means that we have to figure out how it fits, we have to think about it and either assimilate it or accommodate our world outlook to fit it in (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011c).

Reflecting on my theory of learning during the first week of this class was really reflecting on my practice of teaching. Looking at what I did in the classroom over my teaching career and trying to decide what theory those actions embodied was an interesting exercise. I decided then, that my teaching style did not represent any one theory, but many if not all that we studied during the course of this class. I still believe that to be true. The difference has come in my understanding of the theories that explain what happens when I use particular strategies. This knowledge has given me a way to reflect on what I want students to do, and how to go about setting the stage so that can happen. I have assimilated the new information and now have access to it so that I can retrieve it and use it. Because I understand more about what happens in our brains when we work together to make things (Kim, 2001), I will be likely to guide teachers into designing lessons that result in an artifact, be that a concept map, a PowerPoint with vocabulary pictures, or a video. Knowing now how powerful it is to have students talk to each other while learning, to have them work together to solve a problem, or to have to come to an agreement about an assignment (Palmer, Peters & Streetman, 2003) I will suggest to teachers that they use more social learning in their lessons. I will encourage teachers to be sure that the students are actively involved in all lessons, if possible, all the time (Pittler, Hubbel & Kuhn, 2012).

I have already started to change the way I work with teachers. I am trying to convince them to let students use the technology tools they have available in the classroom most of the time. I want them to know that they should, as Dr. Marzono said, “give the technology to the kids, let the kids be responsible for their learning” (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011b). I have started thoughtfully incorporating teaching strategies when planning lessons with teachers and talking about the strategies I am using, as well as where I learned about them. I have shared informational websites with teachers about Marzano’s Nine Instructional Strategies and plan to continue disseminating material I believe will not only inform the teaching staff, but will support their students’ success.

Two products I will promote with teachers are podcasts in the school for the blind and video production in the school for the deaf. These will allow students to use technology in many forms to make products that can support their learning, show what they have learned, and share their knowledge with the wider community. They are both ways for learners to work together to create something; they both are complex enough to be interesting but simple enough for even beginners to be successful. Kindergartners and 12th graders can be engaged and excited
about what they are doing, and students can become more expert as they get older so eventually they can work independently with minimal teacher support.

Most students who are blind or have low-vision learn and prefer to learn through sound. Using podcasts, listening to them and producing them, will give students the opportunity to share themselves and will open them to the world beyond the school. Using podcasting as a tool for students to share information, give reports and produce a collaborative product will require them to plan, produce and edit. This will require deep thinking about the topic and conversations about how they will complete it. It will give them many opportunities to work together and for elaborative rehearsals of new knowledge(Laureate Education, Inc., 2011c). I will share accessible tools such as Audacity or WavePad for recording and editing sound. Students who use screen readers can access all of the functions of both programs and with guides available online such as this one for Audacity, they can become independent podcast producers. Listening to podcasts using iTunes , Accessible Podcatcher or Juice Receiver will allow students to connect to the wider world. There is a community of podcast producers who are blind or who have low-vision who share information about accessible technology and ideas for coping with the world. There are also many who produce podcasts on subjects that interest them. Having access to such podcasts and seeing the possibilities could expand students’ view of what they can do.

Students who are deaf or hard of hearing commonly depend on and prefer information presented visually. Using video of any sort is a great way to satisfy that preference. Video can also take many forms, but all forms are best when pre-planning is thorough. Using tools such as Storyboard Pro from Atomic Learning  to help plan the project (whether with student actors, whiteboard animation, or clay animation) and Microsoft MovieMaker to edit will allow students to complete videos with little additional cost for software, an important consideration.  This type of project gives students many opportunities to deepen their understanding, for elaborative rehearsal, for working collaboratively, for discussion about what they are doing and for to coming to agreement about what they want to produce. This is an opportunity for students to construct something they can share, to actively build their knowledge, and to investigate and create (Han & Battacharya, 2001). Learning through doing, sharing with an authentic audience and working together all make learning more active, and learners will create new ideas in the process (2001).

Because I am now working with teachers instead of students, my focus has changed. I see many teachers who feel incredibly stressed by documentation requirements, requirements for data collection, high stakes standardized testing, requirements to complete curriculum and the need for students to make acceptable progress each year. I see teachers who feel that no matter what they do it will not be good enough and they will not meet the goals set for them. I want to share Marzano’s Nine Strategies. I want to show the power of these strategies to teachers and give them tools to use to better meet the needs of students, and possibly reduce their stress because they have strategies that work and make the effort they expend more effective in supporting student achievement. I will share websites and titles of books, but what I think will be most effective is to incorporate these strategies when co-planning and co-teaching lessons. If that can demonstrate to teachers how a single strategy works, it can be an introduction to them. It can be a teaching strategy they add to their repertoire because they see it works. In my experience, teachers are too often given a book or a curriculum guide and required to use it with little support. Seldom are teachers asked what they need, or what kind of professional development would be useful. By introducing these strategies within lessons, I hope to bring them a useful tool instead of a new requirement.

In one of the discussion postings a while ago (I can’t find it now) someone mentioned a website, FuelEd. I was curious and decided to look at it, and reading through it saw that the idea comes from Louis Cozolino’s book, The Social Neuroscience of Education (Cozolino, 2013). One of the statements on the website really struck me:

The current system is also a bad fit for committed teachers who don’t find teaching to tests a meaningful human endeavor. People become teachers because they desire to be of service and, like everyone else, need to feel they are achieving some success. Instead, they find themselves in a system where, more often than not, decisions are made to support the survival of the organization instead of the needs of the students. Is it any wonder that teachers leave the profession, or even worse, burn out and stay in the classroom? (FuelEd, n.d., para. 4)

I have felt this, but have not been able to articulate it so clearly. I have purchased the book and begun to read it. I believe that it will be an excellent resource, and one that will be valuable to teachers, particularly new teachers. Giving these teachers a lens to see what they are doing, and giving them the tools to shape how they are doing it could sustain their excitement, enjoyment, and enthusiasm for teaching, and as a result could positively affect students they work with. So my second long term goal is to find ways to support teachers and help them find the joy again.

Using the tools I have read about and the resources I have learned about during this class in my current job will give me the power to work with teachers in a way that makes a significant impact. If I can continue to find and share resources, support teachers’ growth in integrating successful strategies and share ways to strengthen their connections to others I will feel that I have had a share in changing a small portion of the educational system. It is obvious to me that there has to be change, what is not so obvious is how to significantly affect that change as a single individual. Focusing on the teachers I am working with, within my circle of influence means that I have a chance to make a difference.

As Mother Teresa said, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you” (Rao, N. A., n.d.).


Cozolino, L. (2013). The Social Neuroscience of Education: Optimizing Attachments & Learning in the Classroom. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

FuelEd: Research Foundations, quoting Louis Cozolinso. (n.d.) Retrieved from

Han, S., and Bhattacharya, K. (2001). Constructionism, Learning by Design, and Project Based Learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

Kim, B. (2001). Social Constructivism.. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011a). Program seven: Constructionist and constructivist learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011b). Program thirteen: Technology: Instructional tool vs. learning tool [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011c). Program two: Brain research and learning [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

Palmer, G., Peters, R., & Streetman, R. (2003). Cooperative learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

Pitler, H., Hubbell, E. R., & Kuhn, M. (2012). Using technology with classroom instruction that works (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Rao, N. A.,  Mother Theresa [sic] Sayings: The Work, (n.d). Retrieved from:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Talk (and make) and Learn

Social learning, we all do it all the time. I belong to a quilt guild. I have often attended classes about quilting with others in the guild. Let me tell you, we are not silent. We talk about what we are doing, what we are confused about and often quite loudly about what we finally understand. This is social learning, and in particular social constructionism. One of the statements made by Michael Orey in his discussion of social learning theories is that as a Math teacher he understood much better what he was teaching after he taught it (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011). I remember vividly teaching eighth grade students about number systems other than base ten and having an epiphany. I finally understood clearly what one-zero means in base two , and it was so obvious. I learned because I talked about it. I had to think about it so I could talk about it; elaborative learning right there in the classroom. Unfortunately at the time, the students were not allowed to talk to each other about what the understood, or try to figure out together what new concepts meant. 

Cooperative learning strategies not only allow students to talk about what they are learning, they require students to talk and work together. Strategies that group students for longer projects so they can develop trusting relationships are powerful ways to learn and can increase student achievement. Students ideally will become accountable to each other and will be held accountable individually. They will work long enough together that they will develop a "sink or swim together" (positive interdependence) attitude (Pittler, Hubbel & Kuhn, 2012) and so succeed together. Giving assignments that require more than one person to complete, that are complex enough to need multiple roles and multiple days to finish all provide the students the opportunity to learn and produce cooperatively so they can succeed in the work world once they are finished with school (Pittler, Hubbel & Kuhn). 

The social aspect of Edmodo, which allows students to communicate outside of school hours about assignments or work, supports social learning. Blogging when it becomes a conversation rather than a journal and is truly interactive, can be a social learning tool. Polleverywhere can also be used as a social learning tool when the questions are open ended rather than multiple choice or true false. If used in a classroom setting where students can see real time what their classmates are saying it can allow introverted students the time they need to process before sharing. It also can lead to discussions where students ask questions, agree or disagree and tell why. A class discussion can be a social learning strategy, as long as it requires students to think deeply about the topic under discussion. These discussion can take place in person, or online using technology such as VoiceThread and an evocative picture or topic. If we can get students to connect to each other and develop serious learning communities, and can provide rich educational environments that encourage deep learning, then our schools will again be the finest in the world.

I created a sample VoiceThread that I could use with a class to introduce a project. I used American Sign Language (ASL) to make my comments, as well as written English. This would support student comprehension of the task as well as provide practice in reading English. The first two slides are meant to get the students thinking about the problem before the problem itself is introduced. I would require students to make comments, either in written English or ASL on the first two slides, and if they wanted to on the last slide. If you want to see the VoiceThread you can click here


Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011a). Program eight: Social learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from

Pitler, H., Hubbell, Kuhn, M. (2012). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. 2nd edition Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.