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How Can We Measure a School's Success?

Posted by Miranda Cipkowski

Apr 21, 2014 11:17:38 AM


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 What is success? How do we know when we’ve achieved it? When speaking of success in terms of education there must be several “yard sticks” in play in order to get a fair and  accurate reading on the pulse of our schools locally, statewide, and nationally.

“Ranking schools is a hollow, misleading exercise that can do more damage than good,” say John Gulla (Edward Ford Foundation) and Olaf Jorgenson (Almaden Country School, CA) in this article in Independent School. But they agree that educators can’t “reflexively dismiss all efforts to apply some elements of quantitative analysis to our work.” They list nine measures of school effectiveness – three traditional and six more recent. Selecting judiciously which of these to use, say Gulla and Jorgenson, might give a good sense of a school’s quality:

            • Parent satisfaction – This includes the level of parent demand, a low rate of attrition, and positive ratings on a well-constructed parent survey. As important as giving a survey is how well the results are used. “If a measurement matters at all,” says information expert Douglas Hubbard, “it is because it must have some conceivable effect on decisions and behavior. If we can’t identify a decision that could be affected by a proposed measurement and how it could change those decisions, then the measurement simply has no value.”

            • Standardized testing – Standardized multiple-choice tests can be seen as measuring (in the words of John Austin of King’s Academy in Jordan) “the educational equivalent of factory work” – better suited to the Industrial Age that faded decades ago. Far more valuable, say Gulla and Jorgenson, are SAT II, AP, and IB tests with their open-ended and creative-response questions. The key data to watch for are trends over time and the value a school adds to students’ entering achievement levels.

            • Accreditation – A thorough audit can provide valuable insights on a school’s effectiveness as measured against its mission and aspirations, in the context of its resources and capacities. But a lot depends on the quality of the visiting team and the school’s self-study.

            • Value-added assessment – The College and Work Readiness Assessment (CWRA+) is designed to measure how much a school contributes to a student’s 21st-century skills from freshman to senior year – critical thinking, analytic reasoning, problem solving, and ability to communicate in writing. This assessment is a “compelling alternative” to the limited range of the SAT I, say Gulla and Jorgenson.

            • Student surveys – Well-crafted questionnaires can quantify students’ level of engagement, providing important insights on how students feel about their school’s purpose, relevance, rigor, and challenge, as well as relationships, support, and connectedness. The High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE – see following article) can provide information that is “[p]otentially far more institutionally useful than data from standardized achievement testing,” say Gulla and Jorgenson.

            • Benchmarking – The key factor in a meaningful analysis of schools is comparing apples to apples and not rank-ordering, say the authors. “Healthy benchmarking collectives… are characterized by member school commitment to collegiality and use of data to benefit the greater good,” they say.

            • Data dashboards – These corporate-inspired tools for displaying a school’s “vital signs” in a user-friendly format can include enrollment and re-enrollment data, budget information, student and staff attendance, course selections, test results, college placements, post-graduate achievement, and more. “Still, much of what we do in schools cannot be easily measured and is not always subject to quantitative analysis,” say Bulla and Jorgenson. “Variables including curiosity, resilience, self-control, and determination – what we sometimes refer to as personality traits or simply ‘character’ – are even more critical than measures of IQ or academic achievement in determining how and why children succeed.”

            • Longitudinal alumni surveys – “Great schools are measured not by the accomplishments of their students, but by the lives led by their alumni,” said Michael Chun, past president of Kamehameha School in Hawaii. John Austin agrees: “Are they active and involved in their communities? Have they put their own educations to work in the service of others? Are they doing what Howard Gardner and his team at Harvard call ‘good work’ – work that is excellent in quality, socially responsible, and meaningful to its practitioners?” Insights on questions like these can be gleaned by periodically surveying graduates and asking them for critical reflections on the school and how well it prepared them – or didn’t prepare them – for occupations, relationships, collaboration, leadership, self-advocacy, and coping.

            • A senior survey – Harvard professor Richard Light is developing an interview protocol for graduating seniors designed to elicit information about both student life and the academic program.

            • The Mission Skills Assessment – This assessment is designed to measure middle-school students’ curiosity, teamwork, resilience, ethics, and time management. Comparing data with other schools might provide valuable insights on the most effective practices in developing these vital life skills.

            This is an exhaustive – and exhausting – list of possible measures of school effectiveness, conclude Gulla and Jorgenson. The trick is to select the measures that most accurately and efficiently measure what a school wants to do. “As school leaders, we must be courageous, resisting the significant pressures to commodify education as a neatly defined, measured set of metrics and program outcomes,” they say. “At the same time, we do our students and ourselves no favors if we reject all efforts to measure the value we know we deliver.”

 

“Measuring Our Success: How to Gauge the ‘Value Added’ by an Independent School Education” by John Gulla and Olaf Jorgenson in Independent School, Spring 2014 (Vol. 73, #3, p. 28-36), www.nais.org

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How to Cultivate "Grit"

Posted by Miranda Cipkowski

Feb 28, 2014 10:35:07 AM


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Ask anyone who knows me well, and those folks will tell you: Miranda has the fortitude of an ox.

I have a tenacity that simply will not allow me to give up. When I was a little girl, I ran around my grandmother’s house to the point of exhaustion, I held my breath underwater longer than any of my cousins dared, I walk on the treadmill at full incline, because even though it’s tough, it’s what I must do to save the ankle I broke severely in college from atrophy. I refuse to allow fear to hinder my attempt to be my best self. That being said, I am also an extremist. The attribute that has served in so many ways in my life can also be considered my Achilles heel. I am too hard on myself much of the time. I drive my husband crazy, I drive the editor at the newspaper crazy, and I drive my boss crazy with my onslaught of questions that really amount to this: “Is my work good enough?” Translation: “Am I good enough?”, or even more simply, “Am I enough? I think the key to harnessing and positively utilizing this wonderful quality, is the ability to strike a healthy balance between throwing in the towel almost immediately and constantly feeling like there is something to be proven. Below are some suggestions to finding the balance and bringing out the best in your students.

In this article in AMLE Magazine, consultant/writer Rick Wormeli says that in some domains, today’s students are incredibly tenacious: “If the story is good, they read 700-page books. They play online games, working their way through 12 levels of difficulty for six hours or more. They stay well into the evening hours to practice for theater productions and sports tournaments, and they work diligently for weeks on video projects to support favored causes.” But in other arenas, not so much. They abandon a website if it doesn’t download in two seconds. They think they know world events by skimming headlines and listening to short sound bites. They tune out if a text message is too long. And long reading assignments are anathema. So how do we build stick-to-it-iveness in classrooms? Here are Wormeli’s suggestions:

                • Cultivate trust. “Students will take risks and push themselves harder if they can trust the adult in charge won’t humiliate them,” he says. Don’t use sarcasm and “gotcha” language. Some positive examples: “Can you help me find the supportive details in this paragraph?” “The first part of your response provides the insight we needed. Tell me more about that second part.”

                • Make connections. When a student is deciding whether to watch a movie with a friend or finish a project that’s due tomorrow, the deciding factor will be whether the student wants to avoid disappointing the teacher.

                • Be happy. Students are drawn “to the bright oasis of the teacher who keeps cynicism and indifference at bay,” says Wormeli.

                • Provide descriptive feedback. Focus on the decisions students made while doing their work, he suggests: “Judgments and labels shut down the reflective, growth-mindset process.” Some templates: I noticed you decided to ______. As a result, you were able to ________.

                • Show growth. Use pre-assessments to set a baseline and create a growth-over-time dynamic, says Wormeli: “When students see that they were once struggling and then worked hard and eventually achieved success, they are more likely to endure the next challenge; they have personal proof that they can go from nothing to full success if they put in the time and energy necessary.”

                • Provide constructive responses to relearning and reassessing. An unchangeable ‘F’ grade teaches very little. Better for a student to go through the steps of a failed project a second time and get it right.

                • Provide meaningful work. Students respond to real-life connections. “Meaning-making is the root of perseverance,” says Wormeli.

                • Clearly articulate the goals. “At any given moment, every student in our classes should be able to tell us both the learning goal/objective and where he is in relation to it,” he says. “If the goal is vague, we’re more likely to put it off and we give it less energy in its completion.”

                • Provide multiple tools and models. If students believe they have the building blocks, they’re more likely to commit their effort.

                • Make sure students experience success. “Nothing motivates students to stick with something like success,” says Wormeli. “We all enjoy complex, demanding challenges if we have the tools to achieve them and proof of success.”

 

“Perseverance and Grit” by Rick Wormeli in AMLE Magazine, January 2014 (Vol. 1, #5, p. 41-43), www.amle.org; Wormeli can be reached at rwormeli@cox.net.

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A Detention Problem

Posted by Miranda Cipkowski

Feb 11, 2014 3:09:36 PM


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There have been days, and literally weeks, that I have been perched at my desk overlooking my vacant classroom hoping to grasp the answer of an age old problem.  How do I get students to complete assignments more readily?

I felt as if I tried everything: limited free time, tangible reward, notes and phone calls home (for a multitude of reasons my communications nearly always went unanswered) just to name a few. The students with incomplete assignments were the same names on my list over and over again. Read below to see how a group of New York City middle school teachers dealt with this frustrating and unproductive issue. I may implement something like this on my hallway.

"In this thoughtful Educational Leadership article, ELA teacher Ariel Sacks describes how she and her colleagues in a New York City middle school dealt with the unintended consequences of a top-down policy. The school decided that students who missed two homework assignments in a single week would be required to attend after-school detention on Wednesday. Teachers were asked to notify parents, get confirmation, put detention students on a list, and tell them to report to the designated classroom on Wednesday afternoons.

                But what seemed like a plausible plan ended up creating extra work for teachers and fostering noncompliance. After teachers notified parents, usually on Friday afternoon, there were lots of questions about homework assignments, protestations that their children had really done the work, promise to do a better job supervising their kids, and requests that a student be granted an extension or serve detention on a different day. “The process was overwhelming,” says Sacks, “and correspondences easily dragged from Friday, across the weekend, all the way through the Wednesday of the actual detention.”

In addition, there was no guarantee that students would do their missed assignments during detention, and if they were confused about the work, help wasn’t available. The result: a lot of unproductive teacher time, some teachers circumventing the policy (which raised equity concerns), and the same students attending homework detention week after week. Often these students weren’t completing regular class work and were failing one or more subjects. Their underlying academic problems were clearly not being addressed.

A change in the school’s schedule gave Sacks and her eighth-grade team an idea. The new schedule created a block at the end of each day when teachers had “office hours” for students who needed help. Sacks’ team noticed that the students who showed up weren’t always the ones who most needed help, so they started encouraging students who weren’t completing assignments to come during office hours. This created problems when struggling students were asked to be in several teachers’ classrooms at the same time, but the team solved that by all sitting in one classroom for office hours.

Then it hit them: why not make office hours mandatory for struggling students and substitute it for the school’s Wednesday detention? Any eighth grader could come for help, but office hours would be mandatory for the 12 students (out of 107) who weren’t completing assignments. The principal quickly approved the idea, parents and others were notified, and four days a week (Thursdays were teacher-meeting days), office hours became a regular routine for students who most needed help. The after-school office hours “became a positive space,” says Sacks, “where students helped one another as much as we helped them.” Some students didn’t show up, but teachers were able to follow up with them.

The result? Almost all the students who came to office hours passed their classes, some students improved their homework habits and “graduated” from the program, and seventh-grade teachers heard about the system and decided to adopt it for their students. “Teachers no longer spend hours chasing after students and their families over homework detention – or feeling guilty for not doing so,” says Sacks. “More students get the help they need, even if that help is nothing more than a time and place to do their homework.”

The moral of this story, she concludes, is that teachers can come up with effective “bottom-up” solutions to problems if they have administrators who trust them (the teachers and the ideas), empower teams to think issues through and get them vetted by colleagues, and support implementation."

“The Problem-Solving Power of Teachers” by Ariel Sacks in Educational Leadership, October 2013 (Vol. 71, #2, p. 18-22), www.ascd.org; Sacks is at wholenovels@gmail.com.

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Are You Tough Enough?

Posted by Miranda Cipkowski

Feb 5, 2014 12:10:27 PM


 

When I was in school, I was smart, and I knew it. My teachers knew it. I dare say these words to follow up with this: My algebra teacher didn’t care how smart I was; he cared how hard I worked.

Needless to say, Mr. Owen wasn’t popular with his students at the time. He was strict, and his classroom retained an “all business all the time” atmosphere. There was always lots of homework, and praise was only doled out for a job well done, not necessarily for high marks. Reread that last sentence. The former doesn’t always guarantee the later, and vice versa.

Mr. Owen taught me several higher math classes as well as many life lessons. When my work ethic began to dwindle because of a budding romance, and then later due to the depression over the bad break up that followed, this man, who I considered a tyrant at the time, required me to report to his class during lunch and finish an assignment. As I threw myself into my desk, Mr. Owen said something that has stuck with me: “Sometimes when we think we can’t go on, that is precisely when we have to work the hardest to forge ahead.” You were right Charles Owen, wherever you are.

In this thoughtful Wall Street Journal article, Joanne Lipman remembers Mr. Kupchynsky, her tough-to-the-point-of-abusive orchestra teacher at East Brunswick High School in the 1960s. Mr. K, as students knew him, would call students “idiots” if they messed up and shout “Who eez deaf in first violins!?” if someone played out of tune. “He made us rehearse until our fingers almost bled,” she says.

                But when Kupchynsky died a few years ago, there was an outpouring of love and respect from hundreds of former students who had gone on to success in a variety of fields. “Research tells us that there is a positive correlation between music education and academic achievement,” says Lipman. “But that alone didn’t explain the belated surge of gratitude for a teacher who basically tortured us through adolescence.”

Lipman’s question: “What did Mr. K do right? What can we learn from a teacher whose methods fly in the face of everything we think we know about education today, but who was undeniably effective?” Stressing that she doesn’t support abuse (“I’d be the first to complain if a teacher called my kids names”), she lists the following:

  • A little pain is good for you. The much-quoted study by psychologist Anders Ericsson showing that 10,000 hours of practice is needed to attain true expertise also found that the path to proficiency requires “constructive, even painful, feedback.” High-performing violinists, surgeons, computer programmers, and chess masters “deliberately picked unsentimental coaches who would challenge them and drive them to higher levels of performance.” [See Marshall Memo 192 #3 for a related article.]
  • Memorization pays off. Fluency in basic math facts is the foundation of higher achievement, but many American students aren’t learning their times tables and basic math facts. Lipman says one reason Asian students do so much better in math is the hours of drill in their schools.
  • Failure is part of the learning process. In a 2012 study, French sixth graders were given extremely challenging anagram problems. One group was told that failure and persistence were a normal part of the learning process, and this group consistently outperformed their peers on subsequent assignments. Lipman says American parents and educators worry too much about failure being psychologically damaging and haven’t given children the right messages about failure being intrinsic to the learning process.
  • Strictness works. A study of Los Angeles teachers whose students did exceptionally well found that they combined strictness with high expectations. Their core belief was, “Every student in my room is underperforming based on their potential, and it’s my job to do something about it – and I can do something about it.” A fourth grader summed it up: “When I was in first grade and second grade and third grade, when I cried my teacher coddled me. When I go to Mrs. T’s room, she told me to suck it up and get to work. I think she’s right. I need to work harder.”
  • Creativity is not spontaneous combustion. “Most creative geniuses work ferociously hard and, through a series of incremental steps, achieve things that appear (to the outside world) like epiphanies and breakthroughs,” says Lipman. Creativity is built on a foundation of hard work on the basics.
  • Grit is more important than talent. Angela Duckworth’s study of 2,800 high achievers found that the best predictor of success is passion and perseverance for long-term goals, not innate talent. Another key element of grit is students’ belief that they have the ability to change and improve, and this can be inculcated by teachers who share that belief.
  • Praise must be strategic. As Stanford professor Carol Dweck has found, complimenting students for being “smart” has negative consequences, whereas praising a student for being a “hard worker” leads to greater effort and success.
  • Moderate stress makes you stronger. Researchers have found that being exposed to challenges – including “a hardass kind of teacher” – builds resilience and confidence. What’s going on here? Lipman believes it’s that students are picking up an underlying faith in their ability to do better. Thinking back to Mr. K’s super-tough approach to his orchestra, she says, “There is something to be said about a teacher who is demanding and tough not because he thinks students will never learn but because he is so absolutely certain that they will.”

 

“Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results” by Joanne Lipman in The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 27, 2013, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304213904579095303368899132.html

                                                                                                                                 

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What Teachers Really Want Parents to Know

Posted by Miranda Cipkowski

Feb 3, 2014 11:53:38 AM


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Here is bit of painful truth from me to you: As a teacher and a parent, I find myself walking a fine line. On one hand, I completely understand the plight of an educator. Heck! I’ve even grumbled over it once or twice. But as the parent of two school age children, I have found myself emailing my colleagues about extra credit and the validity of grades. I really have to “check “ myself to ensure I have not made excuses for my children’s laziness, or done work on a project that was never mine to do in the first place. As a teacher, I completely understand that failure, and obstacles, are an integral part of the learning process. But as a parent, my instinct is to swoop in at the last minute and save the day. The ambivalence I felt reading the CNN article, "What Teacher Really Want Parents to Know," cannot be emphasized enough.

As a teacher, I completely identified.  And the mother in me took off my rose colored glasses and listened to the message. The article that Ron Clark has so masterfully written struck a chord with me so deeply that the entire article is below:

"This summer, I met a principal who was recently named as the administrator of the year in her state. She was loved and adored by all, but she told me she was leaving the profession. I screamed, "You can't leave us," and she quite bluntly replied, "Look, if I get an offer to lead a school system of orphans, I will be all over it, but I just can't deal with parents anymore; they are killing us." Unfortunately, this sentiment seems to be becoming more and more prevalent. Today, new teachers remain in our profession an average of just 4.5 years, and many of them list "issues with parents" as one of their reasons for throwing in the towel. Word is spreading, and the more negativity teachers receive from parents, the harder it becomes to recruit the best and the brightest out of colleges.

So, what can we do to stem the tide? What do teachers really need parents to understand?

For starters, we are educators, not nannies. We are educated professionals who work with kids every day and often see your child in a different light than you do. If we give you advice, don't fight it. Take it, and digest it in the same way you would consider advice from a doctor or lawyer. I have become used to some parents who just don't want to hear anything negative about their child, but sometimes if you're willing to take early warning advice to heart, it can help you head off an issue that could become much greater in the future.

Trust us. At times when I tell parents that their child has been a behavior problem, I can almost see the hairs rise on their backs. They are ready to fight and defend their child, and it is exhausting. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I tell a mom something her son did and she turns, looks at him and asks, "Is that true?" Well, of course it's true. I just told you. And please don't ask whether a classmate can confirm what happened or whether another teacher might have been present. It only demeans teachers and weakens the partnership between teacher and parent.

Please quit with all the excuses

The truth is, a lot of times it's the bad teachers who give the easiest grades, because they know by giving good grades everyone will leave them alone.

And if you really want to help your children be successful, stop making excuses for them. I was talking with a parent and her son about his summer reading assignments. He told me he hadn't started, and I let him know I was extremely disappointed because school starts in two weeks.

His mother chimed in and told me that it had been a horrible summer for them because of family issues they'd been through in July. I said I was so sorry, but I couldn't help but point out that the assignments were given in May. She quickly added that she was allowing her child some "fun time" during the summer before getting back to work in July and that it wasn't his fault the work wasn't complete.

Can you feel my pain?

Some parents will make excuses regardless of the situation, and they are raising children who will grow into adults who turn toward excuses and do not create a strong work ethic. If you don't want your child to end up 25 and jobless, sitting on your couch eating potato chips, then stop making excuses for why they aren't succeeding. Instead, focus on finding solutions.

Parents, be a partner instead of a prosecutor

And parents, you know, it's OK for your child to get in trouble sometimes. It builds character and teaches life lessons. As teachers, we are vexed by those parents who stand in the way of those lessons; we call them helicopter parents because they want to swoop in and save their child every time something goes wrong. If we give a child a 79 on a project, then that is what the child deserves. Don't set up a time to meet with me to negotiate extra credit for an 80. It's a 79, regardless of whether you think it should be a B+.

This one may be hard to accept, but you shouldn't assume that because your child makes straight A's that he/she is getting a good education. The truth is, a lot of times it's the bad teachers who give the easiest grades, because they know by giving good grades everyone will leave them alone. Parents will say, "My child has a great teacher! He made all A's this year!"

Wow. Come on now. In all honesty, it's usually the best teachers who are giving the lowest grades, because they are raising expectations. Yet, when your children receive low scores you want to complain and head to the principal's office.

Please, take a step back and get a good look at the landscape. Before you challenge those low grades you feel the teacher has "given" your child, you might need to realize your child "earned" those grades and that the teacher you are complaining about is actually the one that is providing the best education.

And please, be a partner instead of a prosecutor. I had a child cheat on a test, and his parents threatened to call a lawyer because I was labeling him a criminal. I know that sounds crazy, but principals all across the country are telling me that more and more lawyers are accompanying parents for school meetings dealing with their children.

Teachers walking on eggshells

I feel so sorry for administrators and teachers these days whose hands are completely tied. In many ways, we live in fear of what will happen next. We walk on eggshells in a watered-down education system where teachers lack the courage to be honest and speak their minds. If they make a slight mistake, it can become a major disaster.

My mom just told me a child at a local school wrote on his face with a permanent marker. The teacher tried to get it off with a wash cloth, and it left a red mark on the side of his face. The parent called the media, and the teacher lost her job. My mom, my very own mother, said, "Can you believe that woman did that?"

I felt hit in the gut. I honestly would have probably tried to get the mark off as well. To think that we might lose our jobs over something so minor is scary. Why would anyone want to enter our profession? If our teachers continue to feel threatened and scared, you will rob our schools of our best and handcuff our efforts to recruit tomorrow's outstanding educators.

Finally, deal with negative situations in a professional manner.

If your child said something happened in the classroom that concerns you, ask to meet with the teacher and approach the situation by saying, "I wanted to let you know something my child said took place in your class, because I know that children can exaggerate and that there are always two sides to every story. I was hoping you could shed some light for me." If you aren't happy with the result, then take your concerns to the principal, but above all else, never talk negatively about a teacher in front of your child. If he knows you don't respect her, he won't either, and that will lead to a whole host of new problems.

We know you love your children. We love them, too. We just ask -- and beg of you -- to trust us, support us and work with the system, not against it. We need you to have our backs, and we need you to give us the respect we deserve. Lift us up and make us feel appreciated, and we will work even harder to give your child the best education possible.

That's a teacher's promise, from me to you."

http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/06/living/teachers-want-to-tell-parents/index.html

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Topics: motivation, Parent Support

American Red Cross - Typhoon Haiyan Relief Fund

Posted by Inspriation

Nov 19, 2013 2:57:33 PM


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As we learn more about the devestating typhoon in Philippines, we are asking the THINK Nation to help. Every 5,000 points that you donate to the American Red Cross will help people affected by one of the strongest storms to ever hit landfall. We ask that you work through your math lessons today and lend your support to those in need.

5,000 THINK points = $1 dollar donation

The American Red Cross - Typhoon Haiyan Relief Fund will be available through December 14.

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Topics: inspiration, charity

Blended Learning: Weapons of Mass Instruction - Part II

Posted by Miranda Cipkowski

Nov 12, 2013 11:52:47 AM


blended_learning_part_2This is the second installment of a two part series, outlining strategies for success regarding the implementation of a meaningful program of online learning and real world experiences. While the first part focuses on the role of teacher and students, the following post will aim to guide administrators, in what may be for some, unchartered waters. Happy Sailing! I hope you find this to be a beacon in the night toward your destination. Again, this information was gleaned from: http://blended.online.ucf.edu.

Institutional Capacity and Readiness

Developing a successful blended learning initiative requires an institutional commitment involving leadership at each level in the organization to include senior executives, college deans, department chairs, faculty, and support staff. Alignment of mission(s) is also necessary for existing and emerging support units to achieve common desired outcomes such as improving access and retention. With unified leadership, support, and coordination, an institutionally-initiated blended learning program can reap benefits that impact face-to-face teaching and learning across departments. Investments may be required in the following areas to build, deliver, and assess blended learning.

  • technology infrastructure
  • special funding
  • incentives
  • special rewards
  • release time
  • professional development
  • evaluation support
  • instructional design
  • media production services
  • technical help desks
  • learning management systems or other learning technologies

Excerpted from "Blended Courses as Drivers of Institutional Transformation" in Blended Learning Across Disciplines: Models for Implementation

...where blended courses (also known as hybrid or mixed-mode courses) have succeeded, they have most often done so when strategically aligned with an institution's mission and goals. The development and delivery of blended courses can be part of a strategy to compensate for limited classroom space. For faculty, blended courses can be a method to infuse new engagement opportunities into established courses or, for some, provide a transitional opportunity between fully face to face and fully online instruction. For students, blended courses offer the conveniences of online learning combined with the social and instructional interactions that may not lend themselves to distance delivery (e.g., lab sections). If an institution's blended learning strategy can be designed to address the needs and dynamics of all three constituencies (institution, faculty, student) simultaneously, then the modality can become a powerful force for transformation.

However, the converse is also true. When blended courses do not succeed, it is often the result of a misalignment with institutional, faculty, and/or student needs. An example of an institutional misalignment would be offering a blended course that time shifts face-to-face meetings on an irregular basis (e.g., the first three weeks of the term are in class, the next two meetings are online, followed by two weeks in class, and then every other week online). While possibly making instructional sense, such a schedule would not allow an institution to leverage the blended format to maximize classroom space utilization. Because of the irregular schedule, the classroom would need to remain reserved for the entire term, even during those sessions that are conducted online. A more effective approach might be to schedule blended courses so that they can accommodate a regular, predictable meeting schedule. An example of misalignment with faculty needs would be arbitrarily compelling unwilling faculty or inappropriate topics into the blended modality. Forcing a subject best addressed via a different modality into a blended format will create extra work and unnecessary angst for already-busy faculty. For students, the benefits gained by a blended course are realized only if the associated risks are mitigated; for without careful course planning and design, the blended format could offer the worst aspects of both the live and online modalities instead of offering the best. Students must also possess the self-motivation required to be successful in online learning. If an institution can create a supportive environment for faculty and students to ameliorate these risks, the transformational potential of blended learning can be realized.

  • Dziuban, C., Hartman, J., Cavanagh, T.B., & Moskal, P.D. (2011). Blended Courses as Drivers of Institutional Transformation. In Kitchenham, A. (Ed.), Blended Learning across Disciplines: Models for Implementation. (pp. 17-37). doi:10.4018/978-1-60960-479-0. ch002

Prime Indicators to assess readiness to engage in an institutional blended learning initiative include:

  • A faculty development program to prepare faculty to teach blended learning courses, including incentives and rewards as part of the program
  • Learner support resources to prepare students to learn in blended learning courses
  • The ability to identify blended learning courses in the class schedule
  • Blended learning policies developed around accessibility, copyright, and intellectual property
  • An evaluation program to assess the impact of the blended learning initiative
  • ROI calculated based on resources dedicated to the blended learning initiative
  • Reusable courses and materials shared within departments engaged in blended learning

 

 

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Blended Learning: Weapons of Mass Instruction - Part I

Posted by Miranda Cipkowski

Nov 5, 2013 2:28:23 PM


I integrated online learningBlended_Learning_Weapons_of_Mass_Instruction early in my career, but by my own admission, I had no real clear cut objective. As much as I hate to admit this, to be completely honest, I used the computer and educational websites merely as a "filler" activity while I worked on remedial skills with the students in need of that extra attention. While I am sure this practice was of no detriment to the majority of my class, I was not implementing a blended learning approach correctly. I rationalized my misuse of these tools by telling myself, "well, some exposure to technology is better than none at all." My "time filler" approach lacked any real structure or meaning. I began to ask myself if this was the best use of time in order to achieve student growth. At the time, I wasn't sure if the children were even learning because the software I used did not provide data to track student growth. It was game over - literally. Maya Angelou once said, "When you know better, you do better". A decade and tremendous advances in technology later, I certainly hope I know better. Under the umbrella of alternative education in which I work, I'm not equipped with an online credit recovery program, a computer based test prep program, and I have the availability of Think Through Math at my disposal, the commonality among these three is the ability to tailor a program around the needs of my students. I found some wonderful tips for successful blended learning at: https:http://blended.online.ucf.edu/ The Blended Learning Tool Kit - a service provided by the University of Central Florida.

Student Success Strategies

The following student success strategies are derived from faculty experiences at the University of Central Florida, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and checklists provided by Simmons College. Of course, the teacher must adapt these suggestions to meet his/her needs. I.e., The syllabus will probably be discussed in class along with teacher/student expectations (to what degree will depend will depend on the age of the student and class objectives; tutorial, invention, class credit, etc.)

Getting Started

Use a button, link or announcement to give students an obvious place to start in the online portion of your course. You should include:

  • Location of the syllabus
  • Support materials included how to get help
  • How the online course is organized and the sequence of your learning activities

Syllabus

Your syllabus needs to be modified for the blended format. Some items to consider are:

  • Provide an expanded description of the course along with the catalog description
  • Describe your blended format and rationale for using it
  • Cover the extended work period expected at home that results from reduced classroom hours
  • Cover your expectations of students such as expectation to complete the reading assignments prior to class because you will be expanding on the content rather than covering the reading
  • Describe the relationship between the face-to-face classroom and online activities
  • Provide a printer-friendly schedule that includes assignments and due dates

Course Orientation

Create an orientation to your course. An online orientation can be included as part of the Getting Started section or make the orientation part in your first class meeting. Some items to include in your orientation:

  • How to log into the course (face-to-face orientations)
  • "Walk" through the sequence of weekly/unit activities
  • Print out the syllabus, support materials, how to find grades, where to turn in assignment, etc.
  • Point out assignment lists, due dates, rubrics, etc.

Getting Started Module

Generally, the first week of class required time for technology issues (Aycock, Garnham, & Kaleta, 2002). One way to quickly identify issues with the tools in your course is to create low risk assignment using these tools. For example, create an introductory discussion and ask students to introduce themselves. This assignment tests students' ability to use the discussion tool and starts the class socialization.

Socialization

Students are more successful working together when they know each other (Ayock, Garnham, & Kaleta, 2002) and the socialization process progresses faster in a face-to-face environment. Therefore, use the first face-to-face classroom meeting to start student socialization.

Tips for Success

Give students tips on how to succeed in your course. For example, log-in to your course at a minimum of three times per week.

Assessment

Provide regular opportunities for students to demonstrate their knowledge and proficiency with the course content.

Feedback

Provide regular and timely feedback to students, and when appropriate, give them opportunities to correct their work.

Technology Instructions

Hopefully, your institution as instructions on how to use the tools in your course management system (CMS) and you can point your students to these instructions. If not, you need to write clear instructions for the tools used in your course. Also, you need instructions for common issued encountered by students such as resetting passwords.

Communication Policies or Protocols

Provide your communication policies for classroom and online. Your policies should include methods of communication such as email for personal communication. To avoid answering the same question for every student, use public communication tools such as discussions to communicate with the entire class. You might have a discussion topic to post questions to the professor. Be sure to address "tone" in electronic communication and netiquette. If grammar and spelling are important, make sure to include them in your policies.

Time Management

Your students may need help with time management skills. Younger students tend to have difficulty managing their time and keeping up with assignments. One the other hand, adult learners are often overcommitted between family and job responsibilities. Here are a few tips to help with time management:

  • Log your daily activities for a week so your discussions in time management are grounded in your experience (Aycock, Garnham, & Kaleta, 2002)
  • Provide a printer-friendly schedule with all assignments and due dates
  • Use announcements, calendars, or periodic messages as reminders of due dates
  • Use adaptive release tools to open and close content to keep students on track
  • For graduate courses, consider reopening all the content and allowing students to work ahead. For assignment like discussions, students may post their initial comment in advance but need to return to the discussion when the rest of the class is present.

Academic Resources

Provide links to academic resources on your campus such as the writing center, library, bookstore, computer store, student support services, etc.

Technical Resources

Provide links to your institution's help desk, tutorials, instructions, frequently asked questions, etc.

References

 

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THINK 30!

Posted by Buzz

Oct 30, 2013 11:15:20 AM


THINK_30

Results show that students who complete at least 30 TTM lessons in their targeted pathway make INCREDIBLE Gains on their state tests.

With TTM and steady, consisten effort, every student can improve their math trajectory. THINK 30!

 

An Example of THINK 30 Success

  • Students attempting 30+ lessons acheived a 12 point year-over-year gain
  • Students attempting 30+ lessons scored proficient or higher on ISAT
  • 67% of these students scored at the Advanced level!

Mullan Trail SY 2013 - Lessons Attempted Average ISAT Point Change

THINK_30_2

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Algebra: Middle School Achilles Heel or Keys to the Kingdom?

Posted by Miranda Cipkowski

Oct 24, 2013 4:44:33 PM


Picture it: the year was 1986. I was in Mrs. Huffstatler's fifth grade class. I remember it as if it were yesterday. Up until this point, I had been an excellent student, but even the events that unfolded that spring day shook me to my prepubescent core and changed my attitudes toward math for years to come. My choice of words may lend themselves to the overdramatic, but in my defense, the recollections I have are drawn from the experiences of a ten year old girl. (Hello? Has there ever been a preteen girl anywhere who wasn't dramatic from time to time?). I think not.

Mrs. Huffstatler began to pass out the chapter tests the class had taken only a day before. The test covered fractions. I turned over the paper that laid face down on my desk; I could not comprehend what I was seeing. At the top, in large script, that seemed to scream from the page: 68!!!!! My face suddenly became a shade of red that closely resembled those two offending digits on my test paper. I had failed. I felt like a failure. How had this happened? I was totally blindsided. "The Fraction Test Thing", as it came to be known in my mind, was a day that will live in infamy on the timeline of my existence. The little defeated girl in that rural fifth grade classroom might as well have been FDR struggling to unravel the chronology of Pearl Harbor, as far as I was concerned.

I had not been alone that day in fifth grade. Several of my classmates hadn't done well either. The looks on every one of our somber faces told the tale - except one: Mark had a grin on his face that would have made a hyena jealous. Mark was the solitary soul who had earned a perfect score. Envy oozed from my every pore (I desperately wanted to believe he had cheated, when in fact, he had not). My teacher was not to blame for these mathematical atrocities against fractions. That poor woman had done everything within her power to reach us. Pizza slices and Hershey bars, M&M's and marbles, she had tried everything to get through to us. For no reason at all and every reason known to man, I decided math was for other people - and I would just have to maneuver around it for the rest of my life. Failure scared the daylights out of me and symbolized something of which I wanted no part.

We all know I could not dodge the math "bullet" forever, but in a 1984 study conducted by Barbara Licht, the findings did show fifth grade girls who were considered the top of the class fared poorly when faced with a math concept each found confusing; while their male counterparts performed much better against such adversity, and were actually energized by the intense need for problem solving. Females in the study were more sensitive to setbacks in the learning and mastery process. This is not to say that all females are sensitive to challenges and struggle, but this study could help explain the gap between the marks of boys and girls at the end of eighth grade. With eighth grade being the average of when algebra is taught in the United States, lower averages of girls entering high school does not bode well for the recruitment of women into the fields of math and science.

In a thought provoking article in Teacher's College Record, authors Thomas Wood, Marcy Wood, Darrel Sabers, Amy Olsen, Crystal Kalinec-Craig, Alyson Leah Lavigne, and Haping Sun explore why so many American students in general struggle with algebra (not just girls). The authors believe the failure of large numbers of students in algebra can be traced back to the lack of mastery of rational numbers - fractions, decimals, percents in upper elementary grades. Teachers are feeling pressured to cover a vast number of topics in a relatively short period of time; therefore, even the most well intentioned teacher forges ahead with the mathematical "how to" without expounding upon conceptual understanding of her students. Students in fifth grade were found to struggle in the following areas.

  1. The fact that numbers can take various forms, i.e. 1/2 means .5, .5 is the same as 50%
  2. Rate of Change - Students can calculate the answer, but what does the answer truly mean?
  3. Over generalizing the rules for multiplication.
  4. Sequencing of decimals.

In my humble estimation, the solution to this very complex problem of math proficiency is twofold: 1. we, as adults must dig deep to understand what predisposes young girls to an underlying fear of failure. Mathematically speaking, why do a portion of preteen girls lack the wherewithal to persevere in the face of adversity? 2. Teachers must be given the time and resources to delve deeply into a concept instead of merely skimming the surface. My hope is that Common Core will aid in facilitating this process. Not every student may deserve the "keys to the kingdom", but each child is entitled to a current road map to get there if he or she so desires.

"Strengthening Grade 3-5 Students' Foundational Knowledge of Rational Numbers" by Thomas Good, Marcy Wood, Darrell Sabers, Amy Olson, Alyson Leah Lavigne, Huaping Sun, and Crystal Kalinec-Craig in Teachers College Record, June 2013 (Vol. 115 #7, p. 1-45),

https://library.villanova.edu/Find/Summon/Record?id=FETCH-proquest_dll_29133685311

Licht, B.G., & Dweck, C.S. (1984). Determinants of Academic Achievement: The Interaction of Children's Achievement Orientations with Skill Area. Developmental Psychology, 20, 628-636

Licht, B.G., & Shapiro, S.H., (1982, August). Sex differences in attributions among high achievers. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Psychological Association, Washington, DC.

 

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A list of some contributors to the
THINK Nation blog.

 

  • Miranda Cipkowski
  • Mary Sousanis
  • Rachel Burner
  • Janet Pittock