Research Isn’t Sexy… But You Need It Anyway!

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For some time now Steven Anderson and I have been reflecting on our own learning and professional development practices, looking for gaps in instruction and aiming to improve our craft. One of our longest conversations has been around research. In the work we do, we are constantly reading and attempting to understand the research behind the popular instructional movements of today. What we find is that much of the educational research available today isn’t used, isn’t cited, and really isn’t sexy.

Take, for instance, literacy instruction.

While trying to capture the success in student achievement scores in literacy from the research and studies done in the 1980s to the early 2000s the RTI (Response To Intervention) process and framework were created (Vellutino et al.). RTI was developed to help schools replicate the gains witnessed in this research. Today, RTI has morphed into MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Support) but very few districts have seen the increase in student-achievement that was initially experienced.

What happened?

While the RTI framework was adopted and utilized throughout the nation, the actual reading strategies and interventions used to achieve this growth were left behind. Implementing only half of the research (RTI Framework) while substituting different interventions and reading strategies have produced only limited results, leaving many administrators, teachers, and students frustrated. We know what works in literacy, and there is research behind it (most reading research is in the Psychology field) but still fail to dig into it, much less use it. (Kilpatrick)

Education research is vast. It spans disciplines, instruction, leadership, and many other components that contribute to a school. The problem has become that research has been co-opted by publishers, organizations, and individuals to sell one-size-fits-all quick fixes, programs and books. Many will ignore the fundamental findings of the research and insert their own ideas and practices that help these packages fly off the shelf.

With the abundance of research available, why do very few practitioners use it? What barriers exist that slow the transfer into the classroom? And what can be done to support administrators and practitioners in their quest of research-based methods?

We believe that there are 5 Main Barriers that exist which impacts how or if educators use research. While there could certainly be more added to this list, we feel these were the top 5 Problem Areas.

  1. Access and Abundance – Digging deep into research is typically done during college. Free access to databases, extensive libraries, experts for days. But upon graduation access is limited and met with the dreaded paywalls when locating many peer-reviewed articles, journals, and research. On top of limited access, the abundance of research out there is overwhelming. A simple search on Google Scholar with the keywords “Struggling Readers” lists 500,000 results. It is no wonder educators do not know where to begin when sifting through the research.

  2. Lack of Research in PD – There is no doubt the access to professional development is more abundant now than ever before. But that comes at a risk for individual educators and district leadership. We want to provide and participate in high-quality learning, however, much isn’t grounded in any realistic or research-based practices but instead, they are the ideas that someone read about or heard about or tweeted about. Anyone today can learn about innovation, makerspaces, augmented reality, really any instructional practice, create a slide deck and share it with the world. Instructional practices that impact student learning are based in more than tweets and blog posts. As learners and leaders, we have to model and understand where these ideas are coming from and are they based in sound research.

  3. Time – Time is a commonly mentioned barrier for educators. From new initiatives, faculty meetings, lesson planning, and connecting with students; time to do everything well is a deterrent for many educators when it comes to research.

  4. Research is Written For Researchers – Most research is written for other researchers, not necessarily the practitioners in the field. With this in mind, it is no wonder that many educators find it inaccessible because of the jargon used by a specific group of professionals. This jargon is filled with technical terminology that is understood as both a literal and figurative level by the group but leaves the rest of us guessing. (Education Jargon Generator)

  5. Distrust and Disconnect Between Theory and Practice – First, disconnect. There often times is a gap between theory and reality when reading research done by professionals in the same discipline but with little to no educational background. Ideas, studies, and strategies are examined with a skeptical lens and doubt is raised when research seems isolated or without consideration of the whole child or educator demands. What many educators do not realize is the disconnect within education research itself. With no agreed upon definition of research-based, no common training methods for preservice educators, and both qualitative and quantitative inquiries producing complementary but still fragmented results, the disconnect, cognitive bias, and skepticism of authority is not only confusing but creates a sense of distrust among the education community. Educators are more apt to believe other teachers implementing a program or using a specific framework over the years of research with statistics and data.  (D.W. Miller)

Items To Consider

  • Comparing Sources: One source isn’t gospel. Do your homework. Be open to opposing ideas. Don’t be married to an idea because you agree. If the research isn’t there, it’s not there. Be a critical discerner of information and ask lots of questions when you participate in professional development or are in a presentation. Ask where the research is and investigate yourself. Can you draw the same conclusions? Compile a list, according to your discipline, of leading theorists in the field to cross-check what you hear and read.

  • Research-Based Is A Convoluted Term: When designing activities that include techniques or strategies that have been research-proven, you can then call it “researched-based”. Since there are varying degrees of improvement (statistically significant yes, but how much) and are there approaches that work better and have a higher effect size, it is important to have a basic understanding of the research. If there isn’t any then that doesn’t mean you can’t use it. It just means you have to be more skeptical of the results, long-term.

  • Be A Researcher: No, this doesn’t mean you need to know about standard deviations or methodologies. What it means is be a student of your students. Gather data and examine what’s happening with student learning. What does the data show? Are the practices you are using improving student understanding? Are the results what you expected? What went wrong (or right!)? Be a reflective educator.

  • Always Remember To Keep Students First: Even research can get it wrong. You know your students. Always do what is best for them, even when that means going against what others say.

Resource/Reading List:

New Course Offering: The Tech-Savvy Teacher

Influential educators Shaelynn Farnsworth and Steven W. Anderson introduce a course where you can find the answers to these questions and more. In partnership with Participate, explore what it means to be a Tech-Savvy Teacher.

From Shaelynn – In 2008, the district I worked in adopted a 1:1 Laptop Initiative. Through this initiative, every student and staff member in grades 9-12 were given a laptop. Students and staff members were not only able to use technology in the classroom but were able to bring their computer home with them each night. Ubiquitous technology shifted the educational landscape in our building. Along with reimagining learning, I also quickly learned that traditional and evidenced-based practices looked different in the classroom. Every day brought a new opportunity to provide my students relevant and engaging learning. It also helped me become a better educator as I analyzed and reflected upon my classroom and craft.

From Steven – When I was leading a large technology program in NC as Director of Instructional Technology we invited a group of teachers to spend an afternoon talking to us about a new Bring Your Own Device Initiative we were undertaking. What my team and I wanted to understand was what teachers believed would need to change when the devices are the smartest in the room? We thought we’d hear questions about how to teach or was to incorporate the technology more seamlessly. What we got were questions about the latest apps or websites that were flashy and fun.

Using technology today isn’t just about what app to use or what new website looks like fun. Technology use in the classroom requires a pedagogical shift from the traditional methods of teacher-driven learning to modern day student-driven discovery. Not only do educators need to understand how to choose the best technology for learning but the research behind the collaboration or student reflection or formative assessment. Once we understand the why of learning, the how, layered with appropriate use of technology, because fundamentally easier.

Steven Anderson and I are pleased to offer a new course through Participate. This course focuses on 6 Areas of Development we have identified on having a high impact on student learning and teacher professional learning when integrated with intentional technology.

Course: The Tech-Savvy Teacher

Length: 8 weeks

Cost: $79

Audience: Educators, Coaches, Administrators

Benefits:

  • Specially designed tasks blending high-impact technology with each component
  • Research supporting each of the 6 Areas of Development
  • Examples and stories from our own classrooms
  • Collaborative, reflective tasks to help you connect with other educators while engaging in low-stress, professional learning
  • Feedback from Steven and Shaelynn
  • Access to collections on the Participate Community
  • Badge upon completion of the course

We understand the needs educators and administrators have when technology is integrated into the learning environment. Our focus isn’t on the tool, it’s on the reimagining of learning and teaching. Each we week we will explore the research related to specific aspects of pedagogy and discuss what the effective integration of these tools really look like. While there will be tool and resource exploration each week, the main focus is on pedagogy and how best to be a Tech-Savvy Teacher!

4 EdTech Ways to Differentiate in a Student-Centered Classroom

2018 Blog Post Images (2)Co-Written with my friend and business partner Steven Anderson

In all the work that Steven and I do with teachers across the US and beyond we see educators creating amazing learning environments for students. From the use of 1:1 technology to enabling students to learn authentically, these really are incredible times to teach and learn.

However, among all the flash and pageantry there is a struggle. Educators are looking for ways to personalize the learning environment for every student while trying to find ways to differentiate; it can become paralyzing. On the one hand, they have the traditional methods of accessing content and assessing what students have learned. On the other, they have rooms full of technology but aren’t yet taking full advantage of that that technology can do for each student.

Carol Ann Tomlinson said it best:

“At its most basic level, differentiation consists of the efforts of teachers to respond to variance among learners in the classroom. Whenever a teacher reaches out to an individual or small group to vary his or her teaching in order to create the best learning experience possible, that teacher is differentiating instruction.”

Differentiation isn’t just something that some students need or some teachers have to do, differentiation is responsive teaching and a part of every classroom. Each student comes to the classroom with a variety of past learning experiences, prior knowledge and individual learning needs and styles. Whether it is to help a student who struggles to understand basic content, a student who just needs a little push to go deeper or a student who far exceeds our expectations and needs the opportunity to go further, differentiation should be and must be a part of every classroom.

Differentiation comes in many varieties. Teachers can differentiate into four classroom components based on student readiness, interest, or learning profile:

  • Assessment – Understanding what students know and still need to learn
  • Content – What the student needs to learn or how the student will access the information
  • Process – Activities in which the student engages in order to make sense of or master the content
  • Products – culminating projects that ask the student to rehearse, apply, and extend what he or she has learned in a unit

(There is also some evidence that differentiation of the classroom environment, the design of the learning space, furniture used, etc can also help with differentiation. If you want to learn more learning space design check out the work of Bob Dillion.)

When we layer technology into these 4 components, the process of differentiation becomes less daunting and more accessible to each student. Here are 4 Edtech Ways To Differentiate In The Student-Centered Classroom:

1. Assessment-Sometimes is seen as a four-letter word in the world of education, assessment, if done correctly can provide a mountain of valuable information that can help teachers determine where students are in their learning and where the teacher needs to go in their teaching. Particularly, formative assessment is the driver of differentiation of assessment. Formative assessment acts as a GPS, providing valuable information both the teacher and the learner. It provides timely feedback to inform instruction and make an adjustment. When the assessment is used to adjust instruction it crosses over into the “formative assessment” realm. This crossover helps teachers and students to see it, not as a test, but more as a process.

Technology isn’t necessary to do any type of formative assessment. However, if we layer in the effective use of technology into formative assessment we can not only reach students where they are in their understanding but look at trends over time and respond accordingly to our teaching.

Some Of Our Favorites:

2. Content-When many teachers consider differentiation they look to content as the way to do it for most students, and rightly so. Content is the foundation of learning and skills are applied. Therefore, if we can provide a way for students to access that content at their level, we can better meet their learning needs. Each student is (and should be) held to high standards. But we know not every student is on the same path for their learning. Through the differentiation of content, we can level the playing field for each student.

Technology has made it much easier and frankly more possible to differentiate content in new and exciting ways. In some cases, students can be given the same content, however it is tailored to their individual needs either through raising or lowering the reading level, providing more visualizations or still meeting standards but providing content that is interesting and exciting for students.

Some Of Our Favorites:

3. Process-Differentiation of the processes by which students learn is another traditional way that teachers provide different learning paths for students. For many students, the instructional practices are outdated and do not meet their needs. If we want to create an environment where each student can find success no matter their learning profile than we have to look beyond traditional pedagogy and meet students where they are at and how they want to consume information.

Technology makes the differentiation process easier. Accessibility tools built into modern devices make it easier for us all to use those devices more effectively and efficiently. And many of those tools can benefit all students. In addition, the idea of gamifying learning is gaining steam to provide an environment that is familiar to students but also is fun, challenging and rich with varied learning opportunities.

Some Of Our Favorites:

4. Product-Ultimately, students need to demonstrate their holistic understanding of the content. Traditionally that is done through a summative project. However, this method is flawed when we produce a list of items that students must include, the specific font to use, the number of cited sources, etc. That isn’t a project, that is a recipe. And recipes don’t belong in the classroom. Students need freedom of choice in how they demonstrate their understanding. That doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all. We can provide creativity, choice, and freedom within boundaries.

Technology is truly transformational and students should be able to demonstrate understanding through a variety of transformational ways. This differentiation of product can look different for each student, however, at the heart are the same learning goals. Through the effective use of technology, students can do incredible things while still demonstrating what they know and how they know what they know.

Some Of Our Favorites

Want to learn more? You can grab a copy of our resources from our FETC 2018 Presentation or inquire about a workshop on EdTech Ways to DIfferentiate in the Classroom by contacting Steven, http://www.web20classroom.org/contact

A Writing Activity: New Year, Dream Big!

New Year, Dream Big ...Very soon, many of us will return back to school and greet the smiling faces of our students whom we have not seen since 2017. Granted, the time spent apart is much shorter than a summer break, but brings with it an important sign of starting fresh.

It’s the beginning of a new year; 365 opportunities to dream big and accomplish something new (or something that has been an unreachable goal until this year). For many students, it will be a time to reconnect with friends and teachers that they haven’t seen for a couple weeks. Some students are beginning new coursework, attending a new school, or even planning for graduation in a few months.

As a teacher, it was always my favorite time to have students write. Write about their dreams, goals, and ambitions, plus, it went perfectly with the start of a new year. Creative titles have always alluded me, so I simply called this New Year, Dream Big.

Students (and me, I always modeled and shared my writing with students) used the following questions to help spur their writing:

New Year, Dream Big…

  1. What are my dreams? In school? Life? Friendship? Activities? Etc. (Identify one to write about)
  2. Why is this dream important to me? Why did I choose this one?
  3. Is this a new dream? Old dream? Habitual dream?
  4. What do I already know or understand about this dream?
  5. What steps do I need to take to make this happen? Have I already completed or started any of these steps?
  6. What help do I need to achieve this dream? Who or what can help me?
  7. What is my timeframe for accomplishing this dream? How will I know I succeeded? When will it be time to give up?
  8. Closing thoughts and reflections?

 

At times, these pieces appeared on student blogs or influenced other writing done throughout the semester. Students were proud of their Dreams and shared them with everyone who would listen. And I was proud of them.

So consider having your students write to start off the New Year. Help them vocalize their dreams and make them a reality!

 

Hat-Tip to Regie Routman and Kelly Gallagher for providing inspiration for this work.

Digital Storytelling: My Favorite Phone Apps for Editing, Typography, Gif-making, & Sharing

Applegify.gif

This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is Top Global Teacher Blogger’s guide to what’s hot in tech. What edtech tools have dramatically supported/improved learning in your classroom environment in the past few years?”

The camera is often the most powerful app on any device to capture, edit, and share learning, and the current landscape of digital storytelling allows users innovative ways to share. In a generation of selfies and Snapchat stories, it is no surprise that mobilography has made its way into the classroom. Images allow students to capture their learning and share their stories all from their phone. Phone apps add a creative element to these images through photo editing, typography, gif-making all while sharing them one image at a time or strung together as a multi-image.

With the plethora of available options, I offer you my favorite FREE (mostly) apps that I use personally as well as in the classroom. Most apps are available for both Android and iOS devices.

Photo Editing Apps

  • Snapseed – a photo editor created by Google. Available for both iOS and Android Snapseeddevices, Snapseed is my favorite and most comprehensive photo editor. Tune images, apply filters, curve and rotate to change perspective; the possibilities are endless.  
  • Prisma – allows users to transform their photos into works of art based on the stylesIMG_2707 of famous artists, ornaments, and patterns. Available for both iOS and Android devices. Prisma is free and used frequently in the classroom to edit images so faces of students are not recognizable.
  • Pixlr – photo editing app that allows users to use a combination of effects, filters, and overlays. Available for both iOS and Android, Pixlr is free and also available as a Chrome Browser App!
  • Lively – Only available for iOS devices, the Lively App is perfect to create gifs, video, or different frames from Apple’s Live Photos. I have used this app multiple times to capture the perfect frame from a live photo when my eyes were open and not closed!

Typography

  • Word Swag – is one of the few apps that I pay for. It is a quick way to add text to images in seconds. It is available for both iOS and Android. Create unique text layouts that turn any image into a shareable post!  
  • Adobe Spark Post – allows users to create beautifully designed graphics. IMG_2201Templates, color palettes, sizes allow users to customize images. This free app is one of my favorites and allows you to share your message with aesthetics that match. Available for iOS and will be available for Android users soon!

New: Google recently released 3 new picture apps for phones, Storyboard, Selfissimo, Scrubbies as part of “appsperiments: usable and useful mobile photography experiences built on experimental technology.” I have recently added these apps to my phone and am excited to explore possibilities.  Storyboard is only available on Android Devices, Selfissimo is available on both iOS and Android, and Scrubbies is only available on iOS.

gifs

  • Motion Stills – originally an iOS app, Motion Stills stabilizes Apple’s Live Photo and allows you to view as a looping gif or video. Now, Motion Stills is available for Android and includes a capturing mechanism that instantly transforms it to viewable clips (aka a live photo, sorta).
  • Loop or bounce – helps your Apple Live Photos come to life. Relive the exact moment in the photo, and through a simple swipe upwards, transform your capture into a short clip, perfect for animations and gifs. Pair with Giphy (see below) and create and share your own gifs.
  • Giphy – not only does Giphy have an extensive library of gifs, it also allows you to create your own. Plus, this is web-based which means no app needed but available on any smartphone. The fantastic thing about this option is that when paired with Live Photos in loop/bounce or Motion Stills, you can create your own gif, save, and share all from your phone. (The image for this post was done in this way.) Add text, effects, and stickers to customize your gif!
  • Boomerang – created by Instagram, captures short clips and loops them automatically. Taking 10 seconds of video, Boomerang creativity loops back and forth. Share to Instagram or save to your camera roll. Boomerang is available for both iOS and Android.

Sharing  (There are many ways to share images and digital stories. Here are a few to consider, and many of these have built-in filters and editing options to share creatively.)

  • Instagram Stories – share images and videos with your followers or hashtag. Stories disappear from your profile feed after 24 hours unless you add it as a highlight. Take or upload an image to add to your story. Users can edit, add text, create stop motions, etc. and add it to their story to share throughout the day.
  • Facebook Stories – short, user-generated photos and videos that can be viewed up to times and disappear after 24 hours. You can capture and share directly from the app. Facebook stories also have editing options, overlays, and filters. Users can also share their story with the main feed once done.
  • Snapchat Stories – is a collection of snaps played one right after the other. Stories can be viewed by anyone and last for 24 hours and disappear. There is an option to download Snapchat Stories to save and share a small video. Snapchat was the originator of Stories and Instagram and Facebook quickly followed suit. Upload your own images, or capture using Snapchat and add text, filters, or create a custom filter for your school or event.  Group stories and Geo stories allow multiple users to add Snaps!

The smartphone has turned millions of users into photographers, all of which have varying levels of expertise and artistic talent. Using images to tell one’s story or demonstrate understanding can not only be done via images but via beautiful and intention images with just the download of an app. I would love to hear your favorite mobilography apps or how you use them in your classroom!