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21st Century Learning

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This August I had the privilege of working with approximately 25 other educators for 2 weeks in Traverse City creating Understanding by Design
Instructional Units, which are part of a State Dept. vision. This was
indeed a winning formula for maximum production by classroom teachers!

Not everyone can sing in the choir. So, reasonably, not everyone can or may
want to participate in a collaborative project to bring administrative
vision to life. I believe that many great administrative visions and
innovative ideas have fallen by the way side because the task of
molding their vision is given to the general population of teachers who
may or may not be inspired by this vision.

I believe the MDE event organizers scored 3 major points:

  1. Identified teachers who are interested and motivated to work on the state department vision. This alone lent a level of productivity, creativity and competitiveness that I have never seen in any professional development. By working with
    teachers eager to be there and willing to undertake this project, each
    teacher’s repertoire was expanded to include the best inclusive
    practices of the team. In turn, these early adopters will be a big
    asset in the dissemination of the benefits of this new teaching
  2. Introduced a new learning philosophy in a way that teachers not only gain knowledge but also get had ample time to practice what they learn. In addition, the teachers also had a required final product to which to apply what they learned.
  3. The new learning philosophy was taught by teachers who are successful practitioners of said philosophy. It was inspiring to learn from teachers who taught a learning philosophy that they themselves use in their dally practice.

With this formula for teaching teachers, I learned many things about collaborative instruction that I did not know before. Here is what I

  • In order to improve student learning, teachers have to strive to improve the collective dialog about instruction.Very little professional development time is spent talking about the improvement of student learning by examining one’s own teaching

Throughout the two week project, we were provided with diverse activities that opened conversations about each other’s learning plans and ability to convey directions. By asking us
to provide lessons that are transferable to students’ current
realities, as well as to their realities in the next 40 years to
come, we were faced with powerful insight into not only the
validity of each lesson, but the method of instruction that accompanied
those lessons.

  • Teachers need to reconsider the relevancy of their assessment tools.In this experience, I learned to analyze the validity of the traditional assignment rubrics that most teachers, including myself,
    use. Are most rubric values created to assess the lesson’s objectives?
    If the lesson objective is to prove content understanding, is it
    logical to expect a student to provide proof of understanding by the
    quantity of work they turn in? (e.g. number of pages, number of
    examples, etc.). The introduction of reflection pieces into the
    assessment tool kit not only ensures content understanding but also
    retention and long term transference.

  • Experience does not equal expertise.Part of the reluctance to embrace a new approach is the notion that time spent in the classroom merits a general understanding all things
    academic. Being placed in an environment that was truly tailored to
    teach teachers in an effective and respectful way, I was profoundly
    moved by my lack of proficiency and ineffective practices in my own
    teaching career.

Often times teachers are given common planning time for team or department meetings, but seldom have an established process or structure to
allow these meetings to be productive. We spend a great amount of
time discussing issues that are peripheral, rather than central, to
our daily learning plans. In this experience, there was a clear plan and even more clear outcomes that served as a strong skeleton on
which to teach veteran teacher like me new tricks.

I believe this formula has the potential to provide very tangible improvement to teaching practices and student achievement. Transforming
the dialog among educators and the practices surrounding each dialog is
the essential process that will begin to till the fertile ground that
the state department needs to grow their vision for 21st century
education in Michigan.

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