Tag Archives: proficiency-based learning

“Because internet”: learning to communicate in different online spaces

When is a “lol” not a “lol”? Would a “ftw” hit as hard by any other name?

Two things:

  1. Shakespeare’s now spinning in his grave like a turbine, powering most of greater Stratford;
  2. That’s absolutely fine with us.

Language evolves. It grows and bends and twists and curls back on itself like you wouldn’t believe. And nowhere is this more evident than online.

If you, like us, are “an old”, this may be alarming.

You may, depending on your geological age, remember being instructed never to end your sentences with a preposition. Or you might have learned the correct forms of address for a business letter or a job application, or memorized when to use “that” versus “which”, or bemoan how, like, “like” appears in like, every sentence you’ve heard in like, forever.

Here’s the thing: all these rules or norms are correct, and all of them are out-dated.

The internet changed everything, and it’s here to stay.

The more people began to have to type, the more that entering characters on a computer keyboard or virtual phone keyboard changed person-to-person communication. In large part, that’s because people’s brains think faster than they can type. So the internet caused language to evolve in ways that reduced the number of characters in words (looking at y’all, flickr, Razr, and TikTok) and reduced the number of words in sentences. The internet opened up entire worlds full of shiny things, which added a dimension of excitability and wanting to see all the things in a way that made determiners such as “a”, “an” and “the” much less enticing.

Why? Because internet.

Plus, back in ye day, you had bandwidth constraints, so rather than pay to send multiple texts, you tried to squish the whole thing into one. Remember when tweets could only be 144 characters long?

(The internet also brought us 133t $p34k, but the less said about that the better.)

because internet : leetspeak

The other thing about talking online is that when you’re communicating via screen, you can’t see each other’s faces. So historically, to try to minimize being misunderstood, emojis leapt onto the scene (originally typed out using punctuation marks), and each different online space developed its own norms for communication. Norms, different than actual grammar rules, pertain to acceptable and expected language use. For instance, you expect very different communications norms for commenting a collaborative Google Doc, than you do commenting a Facebook post.

And now think of just some of the different online spaces where we communicate:
  • Commenting collaborative Google Docs
  • Asking a question in the chat box during a videoconference meeting
  • Asking a question during a livestream event
  • Facebook Groups, Pages & Posts
  • Tweets
  • Instagram posts & comments & comments on Stories (oy)
  • Fan fiction forums
  • Email
  • Texts and SMS
  • Ravelry knit-a-long forums
  • Gmail’s new poking functionality where you just choose a canned response and move on
  • Gif reaction threads (double oy)
  • Blogposts on such fine fine blogs as this
  • Commenting on blogposts such as this one

And therein lies the issue.

All this means that we’re going to have to help students learn different norms for navigating online spaces.

Now, this can be confusing for us as educators, because half the time we ourselves are learning the norms of a space.

But for better or worse, knowing how to communicate online — respectfully, clearly and well — is a skill that isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s a 21st Century professional skill.

Let’s tackle two very, very big online communications tasks: videoconferencing, and commenting.

Let’s start with the comments.

Don’t read the comments.

It’s long been an accepted anthropology maxim that health and happiness depend on never ever reading the comments section. But what if that wasn’t true?

We encourage students to blog as part of reflection. We encourage students to blog updates to their PLPs, to document their research work, and as contributions to group work. And part of that is encouraging them to comment each others’ blogposts.

But that’s a pretty wide-ranging assignment.

Commenting the work of a colleague or peer is very different from leaving a comment on Uncle Joe’s Facebook post, or leaving a comment on an “influencer’s” YouTube video. But you can break it down into two overlapping realms: audience and platform.

Who’s in the room?

When we leave comments for peers and colleagues, it’s just as if we’re in the classroom. A blogpost or a collaborative Google Doc is a piece of writing shared by someone you’re in a professional relationship with. If learning is your profession (so to speak), then both educators and students are your colleagues. There’s an informality to commenting — you rarely begin a blog comment with a formal salutation, for instance — but that informality doesn’t extend to internet acronyms or emojis, unless it does.


If you have created a space where you have talked about:

  • emojis;
  • how they are generally interpreted;
  • how they can be interpreted and misinterpreted (please note that article will likely be out of date six weeks from now, because internet)
  • what you all as a community will agree on as a “lexicon” of emojis

Then emojis may be perfectly acceptable in comments. But! It’s important to note that you all can’t assume that anyone outside your learning community will agree on your emoji definitions. Leave them out of comments in general?

Again, who are you leaving the comment for, and where.

Here are some good prompts for scaffolding a discussion of how to comment each other’s work:
  1. Do you know each other in real life? How have you spoken with this person face-to-face in a similar learning situation?
  2. What kind of a learner are you? How does that factor into what kind of feedback you find most valuable?
  3. Do you have anything to add to our comments policy?

Ah, yes. The Comments Policy.

We have found, through six years on this here blog, that it’s helpful to have an official comments policy. It can be fairly simple (“Be kind. No swears or hate speech. You have to sign in. Management reserves the right to follow up on comments at its discretion”) or more detailed, but having a document at hand that spells out both the expectations and consequences is invaluable.

“I don’t know what to say”

Here are a few commenting prompts to get you started:

  • One Thing: one thing you liked about the post, one thing that made you wonder, and one thing that made you want to know more. “I liked how you cited your sources. I did wonder whether the math is correct on those demographics. I’d be interested in hearing more about the school’s plans for handling traffic in the new circle, though.”
  • Yes And: add a new piece of information to the post. “I loved this post about community radio! Did you know: there’s a new community radio station being built one town over. I’m doing my Passion Project on it!”
  • One Wish: If you could change anything about the situation you describe, [panda conservation, alien invasion, water filtration], what would you change?
But don’t take our word for it…

Los Angeles-based educator Linda Yollis sat down with her students, and they explain what the parts of a good comment can look like, along with additional prompts and demonstrations!


Am I muted? I’m muted.
…I’m not muted? Oh, ^%#$%#$.

After this pandemic’s over, let’s all take a six-month break from Zoom meetings of any kind. Six months, minimum. Face-to-face meetings only.

But until then, let’s talk about scaffolding communication norms for videoconferencing!

We’ve all, at this point, heard apocryphal stories of Zoom meetings dissolving into utter chaos for one reason or another. Some of those reasons will be entirely out of your control. Perhaps a student is minding siblings in the background, or needs to be monitoring a stock pot while y’all debate the socioeconomic pressures exerted on the 1850 trial of “Bristol Bill” (Vermont history, anyone?) or the bandwidth bonks, or any number of other chaotic forces intervene.

Setting those types of things aside, you likely approached the arena of meeting via Zoom with your classroom norms in hand, and those may or may not have been sufficient for keeping your sessions organized.

Now, in general, humans learn early how to take turns. We learn how not to talk over one another. And then technology comes along with a shiny thing and our tiny monkey brains get overwhelmed and we (briefly) forget everything and have to start over.

Again, take it back to your classroom norms.

Post them somewhere prominent — maybe have them up and shared on your screen when everyone else arrives.

This is standard operating procedure at this point for online conferences. When attendees arrive, conference organizers go over the Code of Conduct and take questions on it so that everyone knows. Clarity is kindness. And in this case, you’re prepping your students in a ritual that is becoming and will become more commonplace in the future. Well done!

Hey, let’s talk about the chat box.

*removes lid of box labeled Chat, mouthes ‘oh no’ as multiple evils fly out*

As an organization that hosts monthly online events, part of our planning process involves who, specifically, will be responsible for monitoring the chat box. Chat, in videoconferencing, generally has three functions:

  1. To solicit written responses to a question posed by whoever’s speaking on Zoom;
  2. For attendees to pose questions to the speaker on Zoom without a spoken interruption;
  3. For attendees to communicate with each other during the course of the Zoom activity.

In general, when we assign someone to monitor chat, it’s to pay the most attention to that second function. Attendees — your students included — always have thought-provoking questions that can add to the discussion. Plus, that first function’s a doozy: you can take attendance, or measure engagement, or crowd-source ideas for the next section of the activity.

That’s the good bit about chat.

The more challenging aspect of the chat box comes from, by and large, that third aspect. Don’t get us wrong: it can absolutely go well, such as when a student requests clarification and help and another student answers that request right there in the chat, thus confirming that they both now are on task and ready to tackle the activity.


What happens when the chat gets clogged with conversations that are off-topic, or worse yet, entirely derailing? It’s one thing to blog about your alien conspiracy theories, and quite another to begin expounding on them in the chat box of the 3rd period algebra Zoom.

Here are some strategies you can employ:

  • Decide to stop then and there and focus on the side conversation. Perhaps it’s actually adding in some way to the main conversation. Perhaps it’s important enough to step in and talk to the participants involved. You know your students and your learning community best.
  • Have a norm that specifies how chat should and shouldn’t be used, and draw attention to that norm. Put the norms back up on screen if you need.
  • Turn off chat.

Yep, we said it.

This is, in fact, a lot.

It’s so much that indeed, if you feel like your life would be easier if you didn’t have chat around until you have all your norms in a row, no one will blame you. You can absolutely turn off chat in Zoom.

because internet: disabling chat in zoom

The key, though, is to turn it back on once you have the additional support you need to make it productive, whether that’s additional personnel, or revised norms, or a revised norms discussion, or remediation with the students that need more support. These instructions will work just as well at turning chat back on. Because at the end of the day, students are going to need to know how to conduct themselves in this particular online setting.

Is it KIND? You know the drill.

Your students are amazing. They’re funny and loud and smart and creative and perplexing. They’re opinionated and strong.

And you? You’re even more amazing, because they look to you for guidance and support. And before you all even got on devices, before you logged in for the very first time to your Google Classroom, you all sat down and talked. You got to know them. You did some identity exercises.

As you built your tiny community of learners, you set some classroom norms. As a community, you talked about the ways you each wanted to be treated, and codified them. You came up with a restorative plan for when things went wrong.

And we know you’re doing your level best to create a welcoming, inclusive and supportive learning environment for your students.

The late great Ned Kirsch, longtime educator and Vermont superintendent, used to insist that digital citizenship is just citizenship, but online.

And he was right.

The way we treat each other online — the way we believe we *should* treat each other online — reflects the way we treat each other offline. Even when things get awful and we’re all frayed to a worn nub by the mere thought of one more Zoom meeting.

Boiled down to one guiding ethos:

Is what you’re writing, in chat or as a comment to a blogpost, in that email requesting a project update, or that post to a forum announcing you may have found an error in a pattern, is it kind?

Scottish comedian Craig Ferguson unpacks it here. Before you say anything, in person or online, ask yourself:

  • Does this need to be said?
  • Does it need to be said… by me?
  • And does it need to be said by me… right now?

Additionally — and this is relevant — perhaps the most powerful phrases in any language but especially English and especially online, are:

  • “Please.”
  • “Thank you.”
  • “If I’m understanding you correctly…”


  • “I’m sorry.”

All of which carry just as much weight online as they do face-to-face. Because no matter online or off, we all need to learn how to be kind, and reach out to one another. But that’s a topic for another blogpost…

Hitting learning targets in Vermont hunter education

My twelve-year-old son is becoming a hunter.

Myself, I’ve never even fired a gun, but Henry has been interested in learning how to hunt for several years. Given that he was born in Vermont and has a doting outdoorsman grandpa, his lifetime Vermont fishing and hunting license was purchased when he was 6 months old — despite zero input from the infant. Twelve years and many conversations later,  Henry enrolled in an early September hunter safety course in Southern Vermont.

The sticker, the patch and the handbook: Henry is an officially certified Vermont hunter.

Hunter safety courses in Vermont propose two options. Given our family’s other time commitments, we chose to enroll Henry in the homestudy program. It’s an online course which has two in-person dates once you finish your coursework. The other option is a traditional series of classroom courses — usually in the evenings and in select locations. You can find out more about Vermont Hunter Safety courses here.

In our case, Henry had until Saturday, September 7 to pass all units and the comprehensive hunter safety exam. That meant he had some significant homework to complete during the summer in August. And our goal was for him to finish all coursework before school started on August 29.

Hunter education is real learning

When we registered and logged him into the portal on my computer, I showed him how the course seemed to be set up. It was easy enough to follow, since the materials automatically advanced from lesson to lesson in each unit. As we looked closer, we realized that Henry had nine online units to complete. And sometimes, one single unit could contain as many as 13 lessons. Holy smokes! This was an enormous amount of work!

But Henry was up for it.

Even though he was committed and super motivated by the looming deadline, this online coursework took serious effort.

Each lesson required close reading.

Each lesson required comprehension of both text and video resources.

Topics ranged from hunting history to hunting ethics and responsibility. After each unit, a test demanded a demonstrated application of knowledge. As a parent, I was learning how to support my son in his most ambitious learning experience to date. But the most surprising part? None of it was done in school.

16 days of serious, rigorous out-of-school learning.

Henry receives his official certification. Photo credit: his proud grandpa.

When Henry passed the course, I saw pride and accomplishment wash over his face. My middle-schooler son set himself a goal, worked hard at the learning, and achieved his certification. As a proud mama, there are few feelings that can compare to seeing your child succeed like this.

Valuing every learning opportunity

My son’s work in hunter education moved and impressed me. Yet I can’t help but think of the large scale of this learning across the state.

In my sixteen years of teaching young adolescents, I have likely had several dozen boys and girls like Henry pass through my sixth and seventh grade classes. How many of my former students had participated in Hunter Education courses?

I vaguely remember memory a student in my literacy class asking me if his Hunter Safety course workbook could count as his nightly independent reading. And I shudder, because I know that my answer was not a resounding, “Of course it does!”

And that makes me wonder: just how many of my student hunters pushed themselves to learn this way?

Regrettably, I as their teacher knew nothing about their Herculean feats. Only now as the mother of a similar child, can I acknowledge the important and real-life learning that was taking place.

Hitting targets

Throughout this home learning scenario, I saw my son demonstrate many of his grade level proficiencies. As a seventh grader, his teachers set learning targets around reading comprehension, like: “(I) can determine the central idea of the text and recognize the development of supporting details throughout  the text and provide an objective summary”.

I watched him nail those reading targets through this Fish and Wildlife assessment.

I learned Henry is not just a dedicated student, but a good shot as well. (Photo credit: still his proud grandpa).

Don’t even get me started on how many Transferable Skills learning targets he touched. I think about this learning target, for Self-Direction: “I can demonstrate initiative and responsibility for learning” and then this one “I can persevere in challenging situations”.

Henry took complete responsibility and ownership of this learning. The course tested his attention span; he had to experiment with new comprehension strategies. He had to muster more self-direction and persistence than I’d ever seen from him. Henry hit the targets in the shooting range as well as the learning targets; he’s actually a very good shot.

But how do his teachers know about his proficiency?

Does he have opportunities to inform his school about his learning out of school?

How do we as a state implement structures to document and acknowledge the learning that children and young adults do outside of school walls?

Hunter education in a Flexible Pathway environment

When Vermont committed to the ambitious outcomes of Act 77 in 2013, the state agreed to provide flexible pathways for learning in grades 7-12. What better example of a flexible pathway experience than a Hunter Safety course?

Inviting conversations between schools and parents about learning is a key component, so I plan to share stories about his Hunter Safety education with Henry’s teacher at his upcoming student-led conference. His interest in and exploration of Vermont Hunter Education truly fits the definition of what we hope young adolescents pursue in personalized learning environments.

Additionally this September, the Vermont Agency of Education (AOE) published the Flexible Pathway Implementation Kit. This kit provides important tools to help schools develop and communicate profiles for flexible pathway opportunities.

Across the state, students like Henry are engaging in real-life learning outside of the classroom. A Vermont Hunter Safety course is just one clear example.

  • And how can teachers be informed about this learning?
  • How do they recognize and acknowledge the hard work?
  • Whose responsibility is it to manage the communication between out-of-school and in-school learning?
It’s a start, but I’d love to hear some thoughts both from #vted teachers and leaders, and also Vermont Fish & Wildlife and VT’s AOE. We’re one of the most innovative and vibrant education communities in the nation. Let’s figure this out.
a super-proud mama & Vermont educator

Nevermind the physics: it’s all about collaboration

Battle Physics hosts first multi-school tournament

That is just what Allan Garvin and Becky Bushey did to raise the stakes of their annual Battle Physics competition. After four years of engaging students in the designing, building, calibrating, and competing of projectile launchers, they invited other schools to join the learning and the fun.

Wait… what is battle physics again?

At Green Mountain Middle High School, students collaborate across grade levels to build projectile launchers.  Becky’s seventh graders work with Allan’s high school physics students to apply math to physics concepts. The student teams design their launcher using the following steps:

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Research potential solutions
  3. Develop solutions
  4. Select a solution based on cost, availability of materials, and time
  5. Present a design to a committee of experts
  6. Revise and construct
  7. Test including calculations; initial velocity, angle of projection, distance
  8. Redesign

Once they’ve built their launchers, competition begins.  It’s hands-on, collaborative, and high stakes!

Enter Dorset, and Leland and Gray

Science teachers from two Southern Vermont schools were intrigued.  Heather McGann teaches science to students in grades 6-8 at The Dorset School.  For her, this project was a great fit for the engineering and physics proficiencies she teaches to 8th graders. Rose Scavotto has been working on more project-based learning units with her 7th and 8th-grade students at Leland and Gray.  Battle Physics seemed like a way to engage her students in hands-on learning while hitting some key science proficiencies and transferable skills.

Nevermind the physics… it’s all about the collaboration!

Allan and Becky shared their plans and documents with Rose and Heather. The four teachers met to get to know one another, create a timeline for the project, and bounce ideas off of one another. And then they got to work!

Teachers Heather McGann from The Dorset School, Becky Bushey and Allan Garvin from Green Mountain, and Rose Scavotto from Leland and Gray

One size does not fit all

It became clear during their planning that each school would implement the project to meet the needs of their own students. Heather’s learners are all eighth-graders, and her focus was on the engineering process.  She also wanted students to focus on two transferable skills: self-direction and creative and practical problem-solving.  She designed her plans and instruction accordingly.

Learning Scales for the Dorset School’s Battle Physics Unit. Click or tap to visit the full learning scales Google Doc.

Rose’s science students work in a multi-grade context.  Seventh and eighth graders would be collaborating to design, build and calibrate their projectile launchers.  They would also be working on transferable skills: clear and effective communication and persisting in solving challenging problems.  Rose’s instruction was designed to meet her particular learners’ needs while guiding them towards mastery in content proficiencies.

Single-Point Rubric for Leland and Gray Battle Physics Unit. Click or tap to visit the full rubric as a Google Doc.

Finding common ground

While instruction and expectations differed, all three schools shared some common guidelines:

  • In teams, students developed prototypes of projectile launchers.
  • Teams requested feedback from community members to refine their final design.
  • Each team had a budget of $50 for materials to build their projectile launcher.  (Green Mountain teachers have budgeted for this project. The Dorset School and Leland and Gray each applied for grants to fund this project.*)
  • Teams were given the same number of targets to hit within a given range, and the rules were clear.

And the teachers worked together to create a final competition so all students could shine!

Battle Physics Tournament Schedule and Rules. Click or tap to enlarge.

Higher stakes and engagement for the win!


When the final tournament day arrived, teams were pumped!  Competitors worked hard to calibrate their launchers, set up targets, and do the math! Trigonometry is NOT standard issue middle school math, so Green Mountain provided some high school math helpers for the middle school-only teams.  Calculations complete, they launched their projectiles and hoped for a hit.

In between rounds, students mingled with competitors from other schools, checked out the wide variety of launcher designs, and reflected on how they might improve their own designs.  This hands-on learning inspired teachers, participants, and spectators alike.

Projectile launchers will never not be fun, but they aren’t the real driving force here. The cross-school competition raised the stakes and elevated the experience for all learners. It was a day filled with emotion: nervous energy, excitement, the thrill of hitting a target, the disappointment of a near miss, and the joy of a shared experience. Consequently, the event and the learning will be more memorable, and isn’t that what we really want?

Your turn: would you like to enter a team in next year’s Battle Physics tournament?




*Full disclosure: the granting agency mentioned in this story is our organization, The Tarrant Institute. We fund innovative school change projects to qualifying schools around Vermont.

Increasing student engagement in PLPs at Williston Central

It’s about providing choice in reflection tools

getting started with action researchPersonalized Learning Plans (PLPs) across the state have taken many different forms and serve a few different purposes. One common thread among educators is a wondering of how to increase student engagement in the PLP process. How to make it more meaningful and relevant. Michael Willis, Jared Bailey, and middle grades student Hudson, accepted this challenge and over the course of the year, conducted action research on what might actually work. The three of them presented the results of that research to a packed audience at the Vermont Middle Grades Conference at the University of Vermont, this past January. Below, you’ll find a video recording of the presentation that includes the presenters’ materials. And below that, we’ve laid out that recorded presentation as a text for you to read, again accompanied by the presenters’ materials. A huge thank you to Mr. Willis, Mr. Bailey and Hudson, for sharing this story.


Solving the mystery of PLPs

Mr. Willis: “Last summer was the fourth MGI (Middle Grades Institute) that I’ve been to and I decided that I would do something around student engagement in PLPs. One, I don’t know that much about them. I hadn’t had any practice with the kind of official version using Protean, which we use in Williston. As a third and fourth grade teacher, I had done goal setting and reflecting and using blogs.  But, that was all fine and good until you put the label of “PLP” on it. Then it seems that the attitude, as probably a lot of you know, starts to suddenly change.

I was just texting my daughter (who is now in high school) and she asked what I was presenting on, and I told her and she went, “Oh, that’s boring. PLP is so boring.” I asked her why? She said she didn’t know. So there’s this shroud of mystery around them. So I thought I would try to engage students differently by just giving them some different options of how to reflect.

Putting the pieces together

I did want to try and give students some options of how to reflect. The idea of setting a goal wasn’t brand new. The idea of collecting evidence wasn’t brand new, but the idea of how to reflect? That was kind of a sticky wicket. I thought, well, maybe video, maybe audio, maybe some photos, which they were pretty comfortable doing. Maybe just: how could it be less about writing? So that’s where this came from. I did this survey in the beginning of the year:


What did our data say?

Well, the opinions were all over the map in terms of what students think about PLPs, specifically. But in terms of what they thought about reflecting, the majority of students still prefer written reflections. I thought it was interesting if given the choice, students chose writing, yet nobody’s seemed to like the idea of having to do that writing. It’s a mystery!

"How would you like to show evidence of your learning?" 42% chose writing, 11.5% chose video, 38.5% chose drawing & sketching, 26.9% chose audio and 15.4% chose "Other".                                  

The fifth graders were really my trial group. Two times a week we meet in skills group and we do a number of things. But over the last month or so we’ve been thinking about PLPs.

Enter Sketchnoting!

Can you Hudson, talk a little bit about what your experience has been with goal setting and having to collect evidence?

Hudson: I did start out. I did write a goal but it was just hard because I had to write all the other responses to that goal, like my evidence. Then I did something called sketchnoting and it’s like you basically draw a quick sketch and then you draw and then you write like a few little captions. And it just like helped me out a lot.

Mr. Willis: When I said that they were clear in their opinions about having choice, I wondered if they really believed that they have a choice. It occurred to me after talking to Hudson was that maybe they didn’t know they had all these options. You’re going to find that both the fifth and the sixth grade believe that having choices is important yet… I don’t know if they thought they had choices available.

"How important is having a choice in the way you get to do work?" 53.8% scored it highly important.


Reflection doesn’t have to be museum quality

Last summer, I first heard of sketchnoting. Now, I’m a writer. I communicate better in writing and I’m not a drawer. I told Hudson my sketchnoting would be stick figures and well you said to me—

Hudson:  It doesn’t really have to be like a perfect sketch, like museum or any kind of… quality.

Mr. Willis: That to me? Is perfect news. And I think that’s the message that so I just dove right in. Now, I’m also the kind of person who doesn’t necessarily do all of this reading first, to be honest. I just dive in. We did a month-long integrated unit about trash and waste, relating to content areas. We called it garbology. That’s a new word, Google Docs didn’t recognize it. We piloted it. Thank you. I showed them a video from Brainpop about waste management and said there aren’t a lot of rules here, go for it.  Not every student liked it. Below you can see definitely one of the kind of flashier, more complete versions that I got. But the idea that a student could do this without much instruction, without much guidance really sold me on the idea of, well, maybe it could be used for a reflection on your PLP.

One student’s sketchnote on waste management. Click or tap to enlarge.

Sketchnoting from a student perspective

Hudson, the reason that you’re here is that sketchnoting did appeal to you. Right? You said it doesn’t have to be a museum piece. How does writing make you feel?

Hudson: It gets me a little stressed and I just feel like it’s writing [the same thing] all over again every week.

Mr. Willis: What is it about writing that kind of gives you that feeling?

Hudson:  Just staring at a screen and typing the whole time when you could be drawing and doing quick little like notes just like what I really like to do.

Examples, organizers, and responsibility, oh my…

Mr. Willis: I learned that students would reflect on their PLP after the summative activities in the unit. One of their complaints is that we only do this after summative activities and I thought, well that’s true, but one thing at a time. How can we make that action, that activity perhaps be a bit more engaging, and have this idea of choice? Here’s a student example I thought was interesting:

Mr. Bailey was doing the social studies piece. This idea of this graphic organizers came first and I thought was interesting with this student taking responsibility. They’ve got the goal listed to take initiative and responsibility for learning. This person actually, you see the picture of the house. We don’t always chat. I’m busy teaching the math piece and they’re doing theirs and seeing the student reflect and say, look, I did some of this at home. I did it in class.

That was new for me. I had no idea that student was even doing that. I know the student loves to draw. So, this seemed like a natural choice for this one but the learning that I got from it, I’m not sure would have come out in writing. I appreciated that piece.

An example of visual reflection via sketchnote

"Let's hear from our student guest!"Now, Hudson and his tablemate, Tommy really were two that dove into this idea of being able to use sketchnoting, this idea of visually reflecting. Hudson, what does this show about your work on the integrated unit?

Hudson: Well, this just shows all my classwork that I did on computers and on paper.

Mr. Willis: What made this work for you?

Hudson: Well,  it wasn’t really writing, but it was, so, I used like a cycle WeVideo and it was kind of cool and just like put in like little clips of videos. Then I got good sources. Like what I said, good sources makes for good products. I don’t mean a product like a computer kind of product, I mean a good piece of classwork.

Mr. Willis: I like that you’ve got those visuals. So those people who don’t end up in Washington that have no idea about what we did during our unit, I’m feeling like we look at this graphing shows up in math. What’s this on the left hand side? You said it brought up a genuine problem.

Hudson: It was about how marine animals and animals are getting sick in the oceans

Hudson: Yeah, are getting hurt by that.

Mr. Willis: Then the top left hand one, what does that detail mean? So, you’ve got this drawing, it’s pretty detailed…

Hudson: By detail I mean, I added stuff for like color coding and…

Mr. Willis: Now, was that a goal of yours, detail?

Hudson: Not really.

Student opinions on sketchnotes

Mr. Willis: A couple of the top two students, you can see this idea of what Hudson was saying. “I don’t feel the pressure”, “I don’t feel this idea that has to be perfect when I do it”, “I can see my thinking” and they can communicate visually. The bottom two I thought were interesting because they are people that actually, students that actually do choose the words that they’re feeling like either not a fan of drawing or if it’s notetaking, it’s hard to keep up.

A sign of success: students revisiting their reflections

Mr. Willis: I’ve got to wrestle with this idea of how using it to take notes during learning, which is I think maybe the next step into math as I was saying earlier. But also I think the reflection piece though, there is no real timeline. It isn’t really like you have to be done at the end of the class. Hudson saying it’s something I can revisit. I’ve noticed students want to revisit a sketchnote more than they want to go back and revise the paragraph. I’m sure that that’s not something that I’m sure that’s something you’ve heard before as well.

“Let’s Recap”: A tool for reflection

Mr Willis: I did go back to something that I had used in the past. It’s called Let’s Recap. Let’s Recap is great because it organizes video reflections from students. You can send out a prompt, they get to join code. They with their Chromebooks have the ability to film and record answers to a question you put out there. They get a little window that pops up and they record themselves. Then you can then take this video and embed it in something, or share a link. Students can download it to their own files. My students downloaded their videos and inserted them into their Protean PLPs. That’s what Williston is using; they all have their own Protean accounts.

Video reflections from Let’s Recap

Here are four Williston students reflecting on… reflecting on their PLPs.

We did have them practice off a script here. Some will be just kind of, and this is me and here’s my reflection. You can tell you in practice a bit more. The fact that you get him to talk with those transferrable skills language. We did have them set goals and in the past I believe it was maybe as something as simple as I want to get my spelling homework.

Transferable skills help students see cross-curricular

Mr. Bailey: Now with these transferable skills goals, they’re able to pull evidence from other places. Our district has transferable skills which go on to become graduation standards in grades nine through twelve.

Champlain Valley School District's transferable skills, along with the evidence students provide to show they've achieved them. Click or tap to enlarge.
Champlain Valley School District’s transferable skills, along with the evidence students provide to show they’ve achieved them. Click or tap to enlarge.

We’re having students pick one of those transferable skills as their goal, to really help them see the cross-curricular piece of all the transferable skills. It was much harder to track them last year when a kid had a personal goal of scoring in the soccer season, because then they were like, well, it’s not soccer season right now. So we have no evidence this week. Most importantly, what we’re doing with intentionality is having them take a deeper dive into that transferrable skill, see it spread across their day and outside of their life in school rather than having them pick a personal goal, an academic goal, and trying to juggle the two. Pick one goal and let’s go deeper on that and see it kind of come through in all your classes.

What did we accomplish?

Mr. Willis: If you had to choose now and or say at the end of the work that we’ve done over the last couple of months, do you feel like you have more choice now?

Hudson: Yes, like I said before, I thought it was just writing for a long time. Now, I have like three or four new choices that I can do.

Mr. Willis: What does that feel like, in terms of when the assignment comes now?

Hudson: I can just think into it instead of thinking, oh, I have to write again. Do another sketch here or maybe do a video recording.

Mr. Bailey: You were saying in the lobby that it kind of feels more freeing. That you’re able to think more about what you want to say in the reflection, rather than having to worry about making it fit into a writing piece.

Mr. Willis: Right.

Mr. Bailey: He’s able to focus much more on actually what he wants to say and the quality of the reflection, because he’s not having to try to figure out how to do a high quality reflection and then transfer that as a writing piece. Additionally, I did use Let’s Recap as a way of having students reflect on: how do you feel about the newer choices?

What’s next?

For me, the Protean learning curve is what we all need to keep working on. I think just the micro of it, the minutia of sharing and making it public? Just the pieces of that. As I’ve heard from a lot of workshops, finding more time to do it is tricky, and that’s what makes me think that this evidence collection needs to be able to happen anytime. I’ve yet to really do that as well as I want to.  I do want to give an actual survey using Google Forms, but the video feedback is what I use for now. I don’t know if people are familiar with Protean or if you’re using it, but these videos and sketchnotes can be uploaded right into the evidence of a PLP in Protean.

These are flexible pathways for reflection

Kind of like taking a flexible pathway and putting it in a flexible pathway! It’s that idea of if we’re going to give students flexible pathways for learning, let’s give them flexible pathways for reflecting on their learning. Subsequently, what we found at Sterling and what Michael’s brought to the table and is his year with us, is this idea of giving them multiple cause. We were so text driven in their reflections.  However, that doesn’t really seem to fit with the philosophy of a personalized learning plan.

The idea is to find tools that make you successful and to learn how to play to those strengths. As a result, coming up with a variety of options for reflecting on a personalized learning plan is a light bulb moment for us and the rest of the team. So that’s been great.

Hudson, thank you for coming. I appreciate you presenting with me. Thank you very much.


How to build up STEAM

Making time for making at Ottauquechee

makerspaces and project-based learningSTEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics — gives students the opportunity to create. To make. Maybe to fail. To try again! And to make something that improves a condition, solves a problem, or makes the world a better place. But if your school currently doesn’t offer a STEAM time, it can be daunting to figure out where to begin. And that’s where we pick up our story of Ottauquechee School, in Quechee VT, where we used Design Thinking, a portable makerspace and one amazing library space to figure out how STEAM Time could work at this school.

Welcome to Ottauquechee STEAM Time.

Continue reading How to build up STEAM

The crucial role of practice in a proficiency-based environment

Practice makes proficient

practice for proficiencyWhat’s special about a proficiency-based environment? Practice, that’s what.

I know, it sounded weird to me too. As a former math teacher, I thought of practice as the mind-numbing repetitive stuff that students had to do in order to attain fluency. Practice was for straightforward procedural skills.

But Sam Nelson, a social studies teacher at Shelburne Community School, has broadened my perspective on practice to encompass all formative assessment, including complex skills and concepts.

Continue reading The crucial role of practice in a proficiency-based environment

How proficient are you with proficiency-based learning?

#vted weighs in again on twitter

proficiency-based learningIs your school implementing proficiency-based learning?

It’s an idea that’s taking hold all over, so some folks from Vermont’s education community wrestled with the opportunities and challenges presented by implementing proficiency-based learning.

Continue reading How proficient are you with proficiency-based learning?

Community Based Learning in Vermont: What’s going on?

4 lessons from a recent gathering

community based learningOn Friday, March 11, more than 50 participants from public and private schools, community education partners, and higher education from Vermont and the surrounding region gathered for a Community Based Learning workday, put on by Big Picture Learning, Eagle Rock School, Big Picture South Burlington, and Partnership for Change. This day of speakers, working sessions, and roundtable discussions brought together educators from different settings to “explore the possibilities, challenges, and resources of community-based learning in Vermont.”

A few folks from the Tarrant Institute were in attendance, and in this post we present 4 lessons about community-based learning in Vermont, gathered from the formal and informal discussions throughout the day. Continue reading Community Based Learning in Vermont: What’s going on?