Professional PD, Content Area PD & Digital Age Best Practices
We’ve been dealing quite a bit with professional development this quarter in Digital Education Leadership and several of our prompts have focused on how we deal with adult learners. In last week’s post, I railed against the lack of respect that is often shown to teachers in PD. Respect, of course, is one of the chief characteristics of adult education according to Malcolm Knowles – and is typically found in most good teaching. This week we’re looking at implementing “technology-rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in learning and assessment” (ISTE). I wondered what role, if any, content played in this and how it might relate to digital age best practices as well as the professional nature of the learning programs.
To start with the last part of my question, professionalism, I thought back to one of our optional readings for the module relating to restructuring professional development. Mike Schmoker writing in EdWeek criticized much PD out there for its lack of professionalism, “The explanation [for ineffective PD] might be found in a study of professional development conducted by researches Thomas B. Corcoran, Susan H. Fuhrman, and Catherine Belcher years ago, which found that the very people who led and conducted professional development ‘were not members of an evidence-based culture,’ but one in which ‘whims, fads, opportunism, and ideology’ prevailed. ‘Empirical research,’ they reported, ‘had little do do with the professional-development offerings’ provided for teachers. This has to change.” (Schmoker). Schmoker’s lament centers around schools’ lack of serious academic research to drive PD. The report he cites claims that much of the PD schools brought in chased after trends or ideologically-driven agendas rather than what actually worked. This can be devastating for PD as it not only wastes time and resources with unsound practice, but it also demoralizes teachers who are, more likely than not, aware that they’re wasting their time and energy chasing a trend or grinding someone’s ideological ax. Professional development MUST be professional.
Putting the “Professional” in “Professional Development”
To help increase the professionalization of their PD, Washington State, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, launched the Transforming Professional Learning project (WA-TPL) with a goal of “enhancing capacity for standards-based professional learning.” Another key goal of the program was to “deepen their [school leaders] knowledge and skills around effective professional learning.” So a great deal of this project was centered around “professional learning.” To help with this, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Washington State (OSPI), partnered with Learning Forward Washington to establish standards of professional learning (see clip below). The project as a whole was to develop “sustainable approaches to professional learning.”
In the ensuing project evaluation by Bishop, Lumpe, Henrickson, and Crane (2016), content came forward as a necessary component of effective professional learning:
“The CPDS survey [Characteristics of Professional Development Survey] includes a factor called Content that relates to teacher discipline-based content knowledge and how students learn content. It contains items asking teachers if, as a result of professional learning, they:
Gained a deeper understanding of content
Increased their confidence to teach content
Learned how to address student misconceptions
Developed pedagogical strategies to teach content.
The baseline and end of project means for Content were 3.3 and 3.58 respectively on a scale of 1-5 indicating a small but significant increase in average perceptions of participants’ professional learning experiences that increase Content Knowledge.” (Bishop, Lumpe, Henrickson, & Crane)
So content matters in professional development. But what role does it play with regard to what teachers do in the classroom? Again, Bishop and company provide perspective:
“A teacher’s knowledge of discipline specific content and their theoretical as well as practical knowledge of effective instructional practice provide the practical foundation for the effective application of this knowledge in the skillful planning and implementation of instructional practices.” (Bishop, et al. )
Thus it is content, along with pedagogical instruction that forms the “foundation” for effective teacher instruction. This can also be seen in the report’s recommendations. Two of the report’s recommendations for future PD relate to content:
“16. Professional learning activities should directly be linked to teachers’ content knowledge and be supported as they teach that content to students.”
“18. Professional learning focused on content knowledge and classroom application should be emphasized in order to maximize impact on student learning, classroom climate, and cognitive levels.”
The Washington State OSPI’s project on professionalization in PD and the follow-up report, conclude that content must play a key role in PD – a role which we really haven’t talked about very much in our program. Of course, our program is about digital education, so the next question lies in how we incorporate those digital best practices along with content in our PD.
Putting the “Digital” in “Digital Best Practices for Professional Development”
Now that we’ve looked at professionalism AND content, let’s see how the two relate to the digital environment. My main resource for this post is Tanya Roscorla’s 2014 post for the Center For Digital Education. In “5 Steps to a Digital Professional Development Makeover” Roscorla makes a point to include content. “While it’s easy to focus an entire formal training session on a cool technology tool,” she writes, “it’s more important to put an academic content area at the center of professional development efforts. Then staff members can demonstrate how technology tools can help educators reach academic content goals.” So when dealing with technology in PD, Roscorla says we should emphasize the content and use the technology as way to facilitate the learning within the content area. It’s not a case of “here’s a cool tech tool for you to use,” it’s more of “here’s some cool content, now let’s see how technology can help us get that across to our students.” This approach fits nicely with Roscorla’s other suggestions for making-over PD:
Create a sustainable professional development plan
Provide informal learning opportunities with the help of technology
Design professional development around an academic content area
Combine traditional, blended and virtual learning experiences
Train the academic content trainers how to model technology use (Roscorla)
Most of these suggestions contain elements of digital age best practices. Having a programmatic approach to the PD, working with PLC’s facilitated by technology, blended learning environments, and coaching are all part of it. What I found most compelling, however, was the content piece. It’s a piece we tend to overlook – at our own peril – in our excitement to use technology.
Teachers usually get into teaching for one of two reasons: the kids or the content (well, maybe it’s the 3 months off in the summer, but I’m not talking about that group here). For many secondary teachers like myself, it was the latter. I’ve certainly become more attune to the student-centered part of teaching in recent years, and I’m confident it has made me a better teacher, but it’s hard to forget one’s first love. As teachers we are professionals – not only in how we interact with our students, parents, and administrators, but also in what we understand about our chosen field of study. Dealing with content in PD is important. It’s part of good professional development and can go hand-in-hand with digital education if done properly…and there lies the challenge for all of us.
Painful, eh? According to the description of the above video, it was taken during a PD session for the Chicago Public Schools’ “Office of Strategic School Support Services’ special network.” The description goes on to say, “This presenter was one of several consultants flown in from California and the United Kingdom…This is a professional development for teachers of Saturday ISAT preparation classes.” Despite what some claim in the comments, that this is merely the instructor demonstrating BAD teaching, the original poster points out that this is, indeed, a part of the instructional process for these teachers. I came across this video while doing some of the reading for our module this week on ISTE coaching standard 4 – dealing with program development and program evaluation. It was referenced in Valerie Strauss’s 2014 piece for the Washington Post called “Why most professional development for teachers is useless” – a worthwhile examination that concludes most PD fails to connect with teachers where it is most meaningful: the point of implementation. Strauss makes her case for the futility of the current system by citing a 2013 report on PD by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education which essentially calls the most common form of PD today, “Abysmal.” The fact that most PD is ineffective would be bad enough in just wasting teachers’ time, but the fact that we are spending around $2.5 billion annually on the federal level (not including the $2-3 billion in state and local money) on a practice almost everyone agrees doesn’t work, is truly perplexing and frustrating (Strauss, March 2014).
I must admit, I’ve never had it quite as bad as what was shown in the video, but I, like most teachers, have sat through long stretches of sit-and-get PD which had little, if any, application to what I did in my classroom. In her article on EdSurge, Valerie Lewis describes how state and local directives can often exasperate the problem. “The downside to achieving these [state and locally mandated] goals is that the ensuing sessions often resemble someone standing in front of the group and talking “at” the audience, while we all we just “sit and get”. This torture is usually coupled with endless scrolling PowerPoint slides and a manila folder, which might as well have the stamped words “You’ve Been Trained” handed to you.” (Lewis)
I’ve often sat in PD and wondered about the value being consumed during the session – not just the cost to hire the speaker or expert or whatever, but the cost of all of the man-hours invested by every member of the faculty just by their being there. The potential upside is huge. At a PD session there are so many people with expertise in various elements of the school program, so many minds potentially working together to address common problems, so much potential for growth across the board…why does it so frequently get squandered?
The Reason for the Problem
So why does PD often look something like this video? Why does it often fall so devastatingly short of its potential? The people leading PD are ostensibly education experts, if anything, they should be better at teaching than the people they’re teaching!
Part of the problem lies in the approach to teaching adult learners. The initial article where Strauss first links the video above was written one month earlier than the one included for this week’s reading. In it, Strauss introduces the video by explaining, “It shows Chicago Public School teachers in a professional development session that will make you understand why teachers are going out of their minds and to what extent administrators have infantilized teachers” (Strauss, February 2014). I believe this “infantilization” is a symptom of a larger problem: a lack of respect for teachers. One of Malcolm Knowles six “Characteristics of Adult Learners” is respect, which means instructors should, “Acknowledge the wealth of experiences that learners bring to the classroom. Learners should be treated as equals in experience and knowledge” (Knowles). This principle is pretty obviously lacking in Chicago Schools PD video and in the typical sit-an-get PD so many of us a familiar with. When teachers are not respected as professionals, the result is usually someone talking “at” a group of teachers. There is no sense of equality in experience or knowledge. There is no attempt to tap into a preexisting pool of resources that the teachers may possess. It’s like they have nothing to offer. Furthermore, since the teachers have nothing to offer, they are not an active part of the PD process – in it’s design, execution, or focus.
My artifact for this week’s question on respect and PD focuses not only on respect, but also trust. I’ve discussed trust with regard to coaching before in a previous blog post and it was interesting to see it reappear here. John Ewing addressed this connection in his post “Respect, Trust, And Master Teachers” for the Huffington Post. He discusses how efforts to empower teachers have ultimately failed due to an underlying attitudinal issue: “All these efforts to show how much we value teachers fall flat for the same reason: They claim to respect teachers without trusting them” (Ewing). This trust goes hand-in-hand with respect. As an interesting aside, when looking up teachers and trust, most of the sources I came across all related to teachers trusting students. The predominant idea was that if teachers would only trust their students they could engage them more actively and in a more meaningful way – like in the 4 C’s of 21st Century Learning (see last week’s post). But the video we started this post with shows a disturbing lack of trust. Ewing further explains where this lack of trust comes from. “But learning to trust teachers will be hard. For decades, reformers have promoted the notion that teachers cannot be trusted. Ferret out weak teachers so we can fire them. Administer doses of professional development only to fix broken teachers. Create higher standards to hold teachers accountable. Evaluate teachers continually, obsessively, and often bizarrely, so they do their jobs. Is it any wonder the public distrusts teachers?” (Ewing). There is no small amount of irony in the idea that the lack of trust in teachers stems from efforts to fix what’s wrong with bad teachers. As a result of this focus, they’ve created an entire system which really only caters to the bottom segment. It’s like keeping the whole class in for recess because one student didn’t do his homework! Or reteaching an entire unit to the whole class because one student failed a test or didn’t pass a summative assessment. If you teach to the bottom, all you’ll ever get is the bottom. You’ll create a climate of failure and minimal achievement where no one is ever truly challenged or inspired to do better. THAT’S what a lot of PD has become.
I would like to conclude my post by identifying quick and easy ways for teachers and administrators to work together to build respect and trust. I’d like to, but this is about relationships and labor relations and professionalism and so nothing will be quick or easy. As Ewing points out, “Rebuilding trust requires action, not words, and the process may take years” (Ewing). His approach involves finding teachers who don’t need fixing (“Master Teachers”) and let them start to drive the process. An interesting approach that would let the initial steps towards trust be taken by the most trusted, but it’s a but unclear what that would mean for everyone else in the meantime. Other suggestions to build trust and respect tend to be a bit more broad, but often include some elements of PD. For example Stephanie Hirsh proposes,”five actions that systems can take to demonstrate their respect and support for educators, support them on their journeys to achieve excellence, and encourage them to see the learning profession as one worthy of a lifetime commitment.” (Hirsh)
Give teachers the feedback and support they need to increase their effectiveness.
Give teachers access to colleagues who share the responsibility for the success of a select group of students.
Give teachers time during the work day to collaborate, problem solve, and learn with colleagues.
Give teachers time to implement new initiatives with accuracy and fidelity.
Make the teaching and learning profession attractive to those willing to make a lifetime commitment. (Hirsh)
All of these suggestions (except maybe the first) involve empowering teachers to make more decisions and allow for teachers to be contributors to the educational improvement process. A similar sentiment is expressed by Valerie Lewis in one of our assigned readings for this week. Her piece on “Why Most Professional Development Stinks – And How You Can Make it Better” for EdSurge echos some of the same ideas.
Offer teachers some choice throughout the year in things they want to learn about.
Observe, in order to differentiate, then decide what the group needs.
Be clear and transparent about why something can’t be done. (Lewis)
Offering teachers choice in what they learn and providing differentiation will help avoid some of the pitfalls already discussed and will help foster a climate of trust and respect. In addition, it should allow teachers to be more effective and thus produce better results in the classroom – and it would even mean the $4-5 billion dollars spent annually would be well-spent instead of dumped in a bottomless pit of ineffectiveness (see video above).
So, to recap, Educational PD that is based on respect and trust for teachers is a win for the students, a win for the teachers, a win for the admin, and a win for the taxpayers! What’s not to like?
I’ll close with another quote from Lewis on the potential of PD. “Professional development sessions” she writes, “should not be met with frowned eyebrows and a scrunched up face, but instead with a growth mindset and opportunity to improve teaching and learning–yet or even better, as my colleague Dorian stated, PD should make you ‘fall in love all over again.'” (Lewis). “Falling in love again” may be a bit over-optimistic. For many, it will be an improvement to have PD which merely makes them “somewhat like” learning again. It’s a small step, but how can you truly be in love if you don’t feel respected? Ewing was right, it will take time.
For this quarter in our Digital Education Leadership (DEL) program we are looking at programmatic needs assessment and professional development. Our focus for the first module is ISTE standard 4b which says we should, “Design, develop, and implement technology-rich professional educational programs that model principles of adult learning and evaluate the impact on instructional practice and student learning” (ISTE). When contemplating this topic, I immediately wondered how these “adult learning” principles differed from those we are to be utilizing in our classrooms with our students. Are they the same? That seemed like a loaded question. I’ve been in enough PD sessions and worked with enough teachers to know that…well…we can be a tough crowd. No one is a bigger critic or more difficult to teach than someone who thinks they already know everything. I’m not saying this is all teachers, but let me describe a scenario and see if any of this rings true:
It’s a professional development day at school. You’ve been teaching all week (or maybe only 2 or 3 days) and now you’ve got a full day dedicated to improving your craft as a teacher. You’re tired from already working part of the week and you’re thinking about all the assignments you have to grade and how you’re going to cover that last unit before the end of the quarter, but this is going to transform how you teach, darn it! You dutifully assemble in the auditorium or gym or library or wherever, and someone you’ve never heard of or seen before – someone who doesn’t work in the school – comes in and proceeds to tell you how to do your job better. You sit in increasing discomfort over the course of the day, trying to soak in all of the information being presented to you – often in the most “efficient” form of presentation, some sort of lecture; usually accompanied by a Powerpoint or some handouts (this is especially ironic when the topic is a new, engaging method of instruction that will get us away from traditional lecture-style teaching in the classroom). There may be breakout sessions to discuss the topic and the occasional table-talk break or group assignment, but at the end of the day the PD instructor goes back to his or her company or university and is usually never head from again. What has it accomplished? The best case scenario is that some teachers may have picked up a new “trick” to use in the classroom. The typical scenario is that most teachers put in their time and listen to someone’s grand, new, transformative idea about teaching and then go back to doing what exactly they were doing before. Anyone who has ever been at a PD session for teachers has heard lines like, “that’ll never work in my classroom,” or “that would be nice, but I just don’t have the time to do it,” or the classic old-timer’s line, “I’ve seen ideas like this come and go before. There’s no point changing anything because someone else will come along soon with their ideas and the whole thing will change again.” Yeah, teachers can be a tough crowd and when PD doesn’t connect, it can be a colossal waste of time and resources.
So back to my question, are teachers really that different from students when it comes to learning? Probably not, and if anything they may be tougher (though usually not as disruptive…usually). Given this assumption on my part, my question for this module centered around what techniques that we already employ (or should be employing) in our classrooms can we utilize for PD?
Currently, my school, as well as the Washington State OSPI, is encouraging the implementation of the four “C’s” of 21st Century learning: Creativity and Innovation, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Communication, and Collaboration. This approach is also reflected in almost all aspects of the ISTE standards for digital education leaders. More specifically, the Partnership for 21st Century Learning also sets standards for Professional Development. Among these standards is a call for PD that “Encourages knowledge sharing among communities of practitioners, using face-to-face, virtual and blended communications” (Partnership). This approach calls for building the same skills and implementing the same approach for teachers in PD as it does for students in the classroom. Another concept implicit in 21st Century Learning and highlighted specifically as one of the “Life and Career Skills” is self direction. This is particularly relevant given the current push for differentiated instruction in education. My school has been particularly emphatic in its support for this approach.
Tools to Help
In my search for answers on how to really reach teachers (as we would our students) in PD, I came across David Raths’s “5 Tech Tools That Help Personalize PD” in The Journal. Raths starts out by making the seemingly obvious connection between teachers and students as learners. “Students aren’t the only ones who can benefit from differentiated instruction. Teachers, too, have individual strengths and weaknesses, and they need different types of professional development at specific points of their careers. So why clump them all together in the same PD courses?” (Raths). A good question indeed! He goes on to contend that technology is the gateway to more effective and meaningful and lasting PD. “Some school districts around the country are finding new ways to use social media and online offerings in combination with professional learning communities to empower teachers to develop their own personalized PD plans and reflect on how that PD is affecting the work they do in class.” (Raths). Several of the pitfalls of traditional PD (one-size-fits-all, the “get-it-all-done-now” approach, and lack of follow-through) are avoided in Raths’s suggestions by his emphasis on personalization, differentiation, and reflection. To achieve this, Raths suggests the following:
Turning to Twitter
Experimenting with Digital Badges
Using Online assessment data to spark PLC’s
Creating your own PD channel
Online surveys to help target PD resources
Raths’s focus is on making PD meaningful and lasting. These suggestions are hardly the drink-from-the-fire-hose for 8 hours approach many of us have experienced before. They are designed for teacher engagement and involve the “four C’s” of creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration. If it works for the students, why wouldn’t it work for teachers? If anything, one might argue that teachers could benefit from it more. Their buy-in to this approach will make it easier for them to implement it with their students. Furthermore, it is technology that will facilitate the entire process. Technology is key to making it happen.
The importance of the role of technology in PD is part of Nate Green’s piece for EdSurge where he argues that ultimate goal of every EdTech department is to be so good a facilitating PD through the use of technology that they render their own existence as a separate department unnecessary! “These departments,” he writes, “don’t need to be a permanent fixture. Their ultimate goal should be to make themselves obsolete” (Green). This is done largely through the collaborative and communicative elements, but it also leads to personalization. “Peer-to-peer technological integration also requires personalized PD by teachers for teachers” (Green). This overlaps nicely with Raths’s contention that PD is not one-size-fits-all. Both authors also agree that PD conducted in this manner is “empowering” to teachers. Again, hardly the passive souls sitting for 8 hours being lectured at. But it also comes back to this, if it’s good for us as teachers, why wouldn’t we do this with our students?
What’s Good for the Goose…Is Good for the Gander
Ultimately, better PD is better for everyone – teachers benefit, students benefit, and administration benefits. And just like in our classrooms, a more personalized, meaningful, and longer-lasting program facilitated by technology can make this possible. We shouldn’t be surprised at the overlap between what works for teachers and what works for students. Learning is learning. Take a look at the following quote from Green about the use of technology in PD and replace “schools” with “teachers”, “teachers” with “students” and “professional development” with “learning.”
“Schools [Teachers] can empower all teachers [students] to try new things by creating the time and space for peer-to-peer conversation, by highlighting success and by acknowledging the ongoing nature of technologically based professional development [learning].” (Green)
At the end of the day, it’s what we want for ourselves. Shouldn’t we want it for our students as well? And if school administrations want it for their students, shouldn’t they want it for their teachers?
I’m the kind of person who likes feedback. I like to know if I’m headed in the right direction and if I’m doing the right things to get there. The late Ed Koch, former Mayor of New York, used to ask people, “How’m I doing?” and it quickly became a sort-of populist campaign slogan. As a teenager growing up in the Midwest when Koch was mayor of the Big Apple, I couldn’t really relate to much of what his administration was about, but there was something about his slogan that resonated with me. It was sign of his commitment to serving constituents and I found that admirable. This quarter we’ve been focusing on peer coaching and it too is a form of service. I think I’ve learned a lot about peer coaching and service this quarter. Our cohort has discussed how to ask questions, how to give feedback, how to establish norms, how to build trust, and generally how to be a successful peer coach. I’ve even had the opportunity to practice this at my school as part of our “community engagement project.” But as I’ve been working through this, I can’t help but wonder, “how’m I doing?” Yes, there is feedback from my instructors, but this is based on my reflection of the events – hardly an impartial (or even accurate) source. I can rely on my collaborating teacher for feedback, but given that he has less experience than I do with peer coaching, I’m not sure where his feedback matches with what I am expected to do as a peer coach. So I’m not sure if my question about how I’m doing is really being answered adequately. I’m pursuing this question not to merely to be pedantic (though it would not be the first time I was accused of that), but because it matters. As digital ed leaders who are tasked with employing this method of leadership, we need to 1) make sure that we are doing it right ourselves, and 2) make the case to our administration that the process is worthwhile; that the resources and energy spent on peer coaching programs generate results for teachers AND students.
The ISTE coaching standards clearly mandate the first part of this in standard 6c where they say ed tech leaders should “Regularly evaluate and reflect on their professional practice and dispositions to improve and strengthen their ability to effectively model and facilitate technology-enhanced learning experiences” (ISTE). So my question then revolves around the evaluation part of this process (I think we’ve done a fair amount with the reflection piece). Who does this evaluation and how is it carried out? What are the standards against which we are evaluated? We’ve discussed a number of topics related to peer coaching, but measuring our own success remains illusive.
Les Foltos touches on the second aspect in chapter 10 of his book on peer coaching when he discusses the importance of communicating the successes of peer coaching, warning that, “Their [peer coaches’] successes may wither on the vine, and coaching may never become more than a small educational experiment if coaches fail to communicate about their coaching work with the school’s leaders and staff” (Foltos p. 174). But can we substantiate or quantify these successes? Or are they all anecdotal stories about how teachers started using technology in their classrooms? If so, is this enough – should this be enough, to persuade our administrators to continue such programs?
Elena Aguilar, founder and president of Bright Morning Consulting, and author of The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation provides an answer to at least part of my first concern. With regards to assessing coaches, she provides a “Transformational Coaching Rubric” which attempts to gauge the progress of academic coaches in schools. She breaks the progress of coaches down into 5 different levels:
Beginning: The coach is talking about the strategies, demonstrating awareness of them, and may occasionally try them out. Emerging: The coach has begun to use these strategies, but is inconsistent in usage and effectiveness. Developing: The coach consistently uses these strategies and approaches; employing these practices leads to meeting some coaching goals. Refining: The coach’s usage of the strategies and approaches is deeply embedded in the coaching practice and directly results in meeting goals. Modeling: The coach’s practice is recognized as exemplary and is shared with other coaches; the coach shares and creates new knowledge and practice.
Aguilar then categorizes 6 basic areas where coaches can be assessed as to their progress:
1. Knowledge Base – Coach understands and applies a set of core coaching
2. Relationships – Coach develops and maintains relationships based on trust and respect and demonstrates cultural competency in order to advance the work.
3. Strategic Design – Coach develops strategic work plans based on data and a variety of assessments. Coach is continuously guided by the work plan, makes adjustments as necessary, and monitors progress along the way.
4. The Coaching Conversation – Coach demonstrates a wide range of listening and questioning skills. Coach is able to effectively move
conversations toward meeting the client’s goals
5. Strategic Actions – Coach implements high-leverage strategic actions that support client in reaching goals and uses a gradual release of responsibility model to develop a client’s autonomy.
6. Coach as Learner – Coach consistently reflects on his or her own learning and development as a coach and actively seeks out ways to develop his or her skill, knowledge, and capacity.
These categories are subsequently broken down into smaller indicators (“elements”) which are then evaluated on according to the levels indicated above. There is additional space to provide specific evidence of meeting the standard. While this rubric is helpful, it’s unclear exactly who is supposed to fill it out. Perhaps it the teachers themselves or perhaps its a supervisor or administrator. If it’s the former, I wonder how accurate the results will be as it’s essentially self-reporting. If it’s the latter, I wonder how effective the norms of communication will be and how trust will be established if there’s another person – possibly an administrator, present to evaluate the coach. Another issue I have is that upon closer inspection, it’s not entirely clear that this rubric is geared for “peer” coaches. The tone is one of customer/client rather than peer-to-peer. In fact, the word “client” is used exclusively to refer to the person being coached. Since a “client” is not really a peer, this rubric may have some shortcomings as it applies to our implementation of the coaching process. Still, it contains many of the elements we have discussed in class this quarter (building trust, confidentiality, asking questions, reflection, etc.) and can possibly be a beneficial place to start – if only for thinking of how good coaching manifests itself in practice.
A second approach I found, which focuses more on the second part of my inquiry regarding providing support for administration of the benefits of coaching, comes from the Hannover Research’s report for Iowa’s Area Education Agencies (AEA). The AEA was created by the Iowa state legislature in 1974 to study special education in response to Section 504 of the 1973 Federal Rehabilitation Act which mandated “free, appropriate, public education for children with disabilities.” The 2015 Hanover report, “Best Practices in Instructional Coaching,” deals with academic coaching in great deal and contains a section on “Evaluating the Impact of Coaching.” The report echos what Foltos says about the importance of advocating for coaching programs, but focuses on more formal evaluations. “Evaluating coaching models allows programs to demonstrate progress toward identified goals and prove the value of the program as a worthwhile use of limited resources” (Hanover).
The report suggests three major types of data surrounding the effectiveness of coaching:
Product – did you get the outcomes you hoped to find?
Process – how well did coaching serve each of the parties involved?
Inputs – what was invested in the program? (e.g., frequency of meetings, content, and quality of coaching, etc.)
These three criteria read almost like a corporate review, but schools would do well to examine the outcomes they hope to achieve, consider if the stakeholders’ interests were being met, and calculate the total cost of the program when they look at peer coaching. I think peer coaching programs can stand the scrutiny and they will be endorsed once all the data is in. This framework provides a solid basis for this examination.
The report also cites several different theorists and their take on evaluating the coaching process. This includes the aforementioned Elena Aguilar who “recommends that evaluation efforts focus on data related to student learning, but also on teacher outcomes.” The report also cites Leanna Harris, another consultant, who cautions, “You have to have a very soft view of data and if student achievement is improving and teachers are reporting making changes in their practice voluntarily, I’d say you’re well on your way.” So while there appears to be some merit to measuring the success of coaching by checking the students, the greater emphasis seems to be on how coaching effects teachers. The impact of peer coaching on students, the report concedes, is difficult to measure. “According to one district administrator at Dysart USD, ‘It’s hard to isolate coaching as a variable on student performance [even though] we’ve gathered data on effective teachers based on student achievement.’ However, despite these difficulties, the exemplary districts reported tying a variety of positive impacts to their instructional coaching program.” The positive impacts on the overall education program, according to the study, include: “improved teacher retention and cost savings, improved district and campus academic performance, improved graduation rates, and improved campus collaboration.” Unlike some of the other measures of coaching success, all of these factors can be objectively quantified and thus can be used to support a case for peer coaching if the numbers improve. It may not provide individual insight, but this kind of programmatic overview can provide valuable data.
So How AM I Doing?
If my immediate question was “how’m I doing?” I still don’t have an immediate response. The rubric from Aguilar at Bright Morning can be helpful though it may not be specific to our particular brand of peer coaching and if it’s self-evaluation, that puts me somewhat in the same position I am now. If it’s an external review, then it will certainly impact the coaching process – and probably not in a positive way. The Hanover report for the Iowa ASA can provide crucial data with regard to the success of an entire program over time, but as the only coach in a small school trying it for the first time, there’s not really enough data to be statistically significant at this point. So I’m back to self-reflection. Perhaps that’s for the best. It’ll make me think about what I’m doing and try to discover where I fall short. I guess this will all come with time. Les Foltos says in chapter 9 of his book, “much of their success as coaches comes from what they learn on the job. Many peer coaches feel somewhat overwhelmed as they start coaching peers, but they feel much more effective after a year or more of classroom coaching experience” (Foltos p. 164). I’ve got the “overwhelmed” part of that equation down pat – now I just need to get through first year and hopefully I’ll be better next time. It looks like the only person who can really tell me “how’m I doing?” is me.
For this module’s blog post, I decided to look at scaffolding and how it applies to peer coaches in education. Les Foltos mentions scaffolding with regard to helping teachers aid students in solving particular tasks in Chapter 7 of Peer coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration (Foltos 127), and much of what we are asked to do as teachers involves scaffolding for our students as well. ISTE coaching standard standard 2, part F requires us to “Coach teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design when planning technology-enhanced learning experiences” (ISTE). One of these best practices is scaffolding. I wanted to find out how we as coaches and teachers can scaffold our coaching and our instruction to help our fellow teachers AND our students. There is thus a two-pronged approach to my question – how do we provide the necessary support to both of these groups to help them attain the goals of 21st Century learning?
For Coaches and Teachers
Fortunately for my question (and this post) there are numerous philosophies and websites dedicated to providing structures to assist teachers and students in integrating technology. One of these sources has actually been mentioned to me on several occasions by Dr. David Wicks. He suggested I check out the work of Dr. Liz Kolb at the University of Michigan. As it turns out, her “Triple E” framework turned out to be just what the doctor ordered (pun intended).
Dr. Kolb’s framework helps provide scaffolding for teachers as it establishes three components for technology integration: engagement, enhancement, and extension. Within each of these components are three questions that pertain to adequately activating each component. This simple, though not simplistic, approach allows teachers to analyze how well their activities implement technology. Below is a summary of the three E’s and their relevant questions:
Rooted in Dewey-esque pragmatism and focusing on learning goals, the Triple E framework is fundamentally a measurement tool to help teachers write better tech-integrated lessons and help administrators better gauge the effectiveness of how technology is integrated in their schools. The website even includes an online tool teachers can use to match their lessons to the framework. Once the questions are entered for the activity, the responses are tabulated and set in a three-tiered response which lets the teacher know where their assignment falls with regard to the framework. This provides concrete feedback for teachers looking to advance their craft. In addition to providing a rubric and feedback, Kolb’s site also provides a list of instructional strategies to help teachers focus on particular parts of the framework. For example, if you’re stuck on Engagement, try “I do, we do, you do” or “Purposeful partnering.” If you need help with Extension, then “connecting with authentic experts” or digital “pen pals” may be the solution.
Despite its simplicity (or perhaps because of it), the Triple E Framework has an impressive scope. It can apply to all grade levels, all disciplines, and works with administration as well as faculty. It includes goals, rubrics, and resources. It provides teachers with the necessary support they need to succeed in incorporating technology in their lessons. This Framework compares favorably with other systems like Michigan State’s TPACK or Ruben R. Puentedura’s SAMR model, though Kolb argues that no other system has the focus on using technology to help students achieve learning goals.
Learning goals are key to the Triple E Framework. Kolb consistently argues throughout the framework that learning comes first – then technology. Improper pedagogy will render even the most dazzling tech tool completely ineffective. “No digital tool is a magic bullet for learning. While some tools have effective learning strategies built into them (eg…collaboration, differentiated instruction…etc), many do not. Even when a tool includes good pedagogical practices, teachers supports and instructional strategies around the tool are still a vital component to the lesson plan. The type of tool selected is not nearly as significant as the instructional strategies a teacher creates when using the tools.” Teaching is still at the center – not the technology. With regard to coaching, Foltos echos the sentiment in his chapter on Enhancing Learning by Integrating Technology. Establish the learning goals first, then enhance with technology. Foltos writes, “With teaching and learning as starting points, coaches can emphasize how a specific piece of technology might help students reach the goals and perform the tasks that the teacher has defined” (Foltos 138). For teachers and coaches, pedagogy drives the technology, not the other way around.
Whether or not the Triple E framework is really the only one to address learning goals may be somewhat open to debate, but the Triple E Framework remains a valuable instrument for teachers (and coaches) looking for support as they begin to implement technology and 21st Century learning. It provides structure, feedback, and scaffolding.
In a way, scaffolding for coaches and teachers will ultimately “trickle down” to students (“supply-side education”? “Voodoo Learning”?). As the teacher becomes more adept at integrating technology in a seamless way – combining sound pedagogy, learning goals, and tech tools into one fully integrated lesson, the students will ultimately be the beneficiaries of this approach. However, more direct student scaffolding can also be beneficial to students – and teachers. Dr. Cheryl Nixon posted an interesting piece on scaffolding and engagement in her 2016 article “Scaffolding your way to a more engaged class.” In it, Nixon echos the aforementioned sites, in that she also begins with pedagogy. “Visualize the space, time, student movements, materials used, and physical structures of the classroom rather than the content being taught. What are students actually doing during class time and how are they doing it? How are students interacting with the course materials, other students, and you? After thinking through the different types of work your students do, scaffold that work. Sequence those learning activities in a meaningful way across several class meetings—order the activities with engagement in mind, training students to become progressively more engaged in their coursework.”
Nixon doesn’t emphasize technology per say in her post, but it is certainly easy to see where it could be integrated into her visualization of what students are doing. She also may be a bit light on learning goals, but again, those can be easily integrated into her approach. The benefit of Nixon’s approach here is that she is mindful of the need to scaffold this type of learning for the students. She provides two examples in her post, and both illustrate how a teacher can arrange activities to build on the previous construction of knowledge and skills. This allows for a more systematic move through Bloom’s taxonomy and approach the 21st Century learning goals we all strive for. Nixon only directly includes technology in one of the five days worth of activities she illustrates, but again, it would be fairly easy for a skilled Ed Tech coach to help move the needle with regard to technology here – the hard part (the pedagogical re-examination) has already been done. The redefinition of the learning process and the centrality of pedagogy combined with special attention to scaffolding make this piece pertinent to my initial question. This is a good example of student scaffolding and, as I said earlier, it benefits the teacher as well. It forces teachers who are already embracing 21st century learning to start systematically examining how they can help their students best achieve their goals. This purposeful and thoughtful approach can only sharpen teachers’s focus as they provide appropriate scaffolded activities for their students.
Good for me, good for you, good for us.
A pedagogically sound, technologically enhanced, scaffolded lesson ultimately benefits everyone involved – students AND teachers AND coaches. Fortunately for all of us in the profession, a great deal of work has already been done to establish frameworks in this. The Triple E Framework is one of the better ones, but not the only one. It is now our job as peer coaches to find the framework (or model) that best works with our collaborating teacher(s) and help them to implement it to establish best practices. It can’t all happen at once, but it can be scaffolded to fit the needs of the situation. The systems are build to accommodate this. It’s a brave new world of education and we can build it together…with the proper support.
Foltos, Les (2013). Peer coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin.
Permit me, if you will, to begin with a rather lengthy quote from the Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet. Here we see Watson describing his new roommate, Sherlock Holmes:
His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.
“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”
“But the Solar System!” I protested.
“What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently; “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”
To fans of Doyle’s “Great Detective,” the revelation that Holmes doesn’t know the earth revolves around the sun is not particularly new, but this forms the basis of my question, and my argument, for this week’s post. I wanted to explore a question posed in our introduction to 21st century learning. In this module, we have been encouraged to investigate what a 21st Century learning activity looks like. To that end, we are encouraged to first ask ourselves, “What skills and competencies do our students need to be successful in college and their careers?” The subsequent question, “What are the characteristics of learning activities that will help students develop critical skills?” flows logically from the first and drives the rest of the endeavor, but my question goes back to the first foundational question. It’s a problem I’ve partially addressed before, but one of our “guiding questions” for this module asks us, “What are the pitfalls, or dangers, of using this definition in your work?” and it is the potential dangers and pitfalls in this approach that I intend to explore in this post.
The Tidy “Brain-Attic”
To go back to Sherlock Holmes for a moment, he is undoubtedly one of the most popular characters in all of literary fiction – and it’s not just literature. There have been countless film and television portrayals of the character as well. And I think it would be fairly safe to say that he is almost universally admired (his mild cocaine addiction notwithstanding). Holmes’s intellect is astounding, his powers of deduction are amazing, and his ability to solve the seemingly unsolvable is equally incredible and entertaining. Within the scope of the fiction he is celebrated and very successful – the absolute pinnacle of his profession who is sought after by common people, Scotland Yard, various ministries in the cabinet, and heads of state both foreign and domestic. It is no wonder he is so widely cited, imitated, and referenced throughout our culture. But is he who we really want to be? Is he who we want our students to be? Consider again his shortcomings based on Watson’s list from the aforementioned book:
SHERLOCK HOLMES—his limits.
1. Knowledge of Literature.—Nil.
5. Botany.—Variable. Well up in belladonna,
opium, and poisons generally.
Knows nothing of practical gardening.
6. Geology.—Practical, but limited.
Tells at a glance different soils
from each other. After walks has
shown me splashes upon his trousers,
and told me by their colour and
consistence in what part of London
he had received them.
8. Anatomy.—Accurate, but unsystematic.
9. Sensational Literature.—Immense. He appears
to know every detail of every horror
perpetrated in the century.
10. Plays the violin well.
11. Is an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.
12. Has a good practical knowledge of British law.
Would we want to produce a student who didn’t know the earth revolved around the sun? Or a student who knew nothing of literature? I realize, of course, that Holmes is a fictional character and that the traits Doyle created in him exaggerated and are designed to facilitate a specific set of narratives in which he practices his profession, but I can’t help but wonder if he isn’t the end result of our 21st Century learning philosophy. Aside from a few indulgences that spark his interest (think student-centered education) Holmes knows everything he needs to know to do his job – and not much else. His “brain-attic” (to use his words) is tidy and neat. Everything fits just so, so that he can find what he needs at a moment’s notice. His profession has almost entirely driven his education. It’s almost as if Holmes’s 19th Century learning and our 21st Century learning started with the same question.
While Holmes may be fictional, I am not the first person (by a long shot) to connect 19th century education and 21st century education with employment. I have already addressed Sugata Mitra and his award-winning TED talk on “The School in the Cloud” in a previous post, but I think it’s worthwhile revisiting it as he draws the same comparison I am making – but in a more positive light. He argues that the 19th century Victorian educational systems produced clerks who could write nicely and do math, but says that system is obsolete. Now we need the schools of the 21st century to produce students for a different type of job – one that requires the adept use of computers. “We don’t even know what the jobs of the future are going to look like,” says Mitra, “We know that people are going to work from wherever they want, whenever they want, in whatever way they want. How is present-day schooling going to prepare them for that world?” Mitra is looking at the issue of education solely from the perspective of employment – which is reiterated in the first question we should ask as we look at creating 21 Century learning activities (albeit our 21st Century goals allow for “college” paths as well – but what is this but a road to a more prestigious profession?). I’m not trying to say that education shouldn’t prepare students for a job, and I’m certainly not disagreeing with some of the pedagogical implications of his approach. I’m merely posing the question, is that ALL education should do? This seems to be the heart of Mitra’s argument. Mitra and his approach are incredibly influential in education today (as an example, he is cited in our reading for this module), but I can’t help but wonder if the pendulum has swung too far the other way. The current emphasis on STEM education is also a product of this approach and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Mitra’s educational background is entirely in science – not education, and Mitra is not the only one. There are a rising number of influential leaders in education who by training and profession are not educators, but come from the fields of business and science and technology. This is not to say they have nothing to offer, but it does impact how they think and they think education is for. Education is more than a means to a job. Anyone who has taught any length of time can tell you that teaching is about helping students acquire knowledge and attain skills that transcend what a job may ever require. It is somewhat myopic to think that the purpose of what we do in our classrooms as teachers is merely to train future employees (or entrepreneurs) of some company.
The Whole Child and Civic Education
If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know that I’m a history and government teacher. My bias lies firmly in the humanities, and as a graduate of a liberal arts college I suppose I’m completely out of step with many popular ideas in current educational theory. But there are others who argue that maybe we’re missing something with the current emphases in education. I would argue that progressives in education going all the way back to John Dewey have argued for the education of the “whole child.” The whole child education advocacy group ASCD argues that, “All students who have access to challenging and engaging academic programs are better prepared for further education, work, and civic life. These components must work together, not in isolation. That is the goal of whole child education.” The addition of the “civic life” component is an important one. It falls outside of work and education, but is equally important in our democracy – arguably, it has never been more important than now.
Harvard University conducted a panel in 2011 where the case for civic education was made quite clearly by several experts in the field . Elizabeth Lynn, a senior research fellow at Valparaiso University defined civic education by saying, “It’s aiming at the development of a citizen. It’s the person on the school boards, community boards. It’s every person in civic life.” (Mason 2011). Civic life is not simply voting, but rather, participating in our democratic institutions at many levels. Sadly, however, many of the opportunities for participation have disappeared over the years. Peter Levine, director of the Center for Learning and Engagement and research director at Tufts University’s Jonathan Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service said at the same conference, “There used to be a lot of institutions — labor unions, political parties, churches — that recruited you without asking you to be civically educated. All these have been shattered.” There is “nothing that has that same function that turns you into a citizen outside of schools.” (Madison 2011). The decline of other social and cultural institutions that supported and reinforced democracy have left the schools at the forefront of civic education. Thus, we have a responsibility to instill these virtues regardless of prospective employment or future education. Juan Carlos De Martin, a Berkman Faculty Fellow and director of the NEXA Center for Internet & Society at the Politecnico Di Torino, Torino, Italy gave an interesting, if not predictive, explanation of what happens when we fail in this regard. “If you know the facts, it allows you to ask deep questions about issues,” De Martin said. “We’ve seen in Italy someone like [recently resigned Prime Minister Silvio] Berlusconi come along and manipulate democracy.” In 2011, there was no way that De Martin could envision the many ways our democracy today is under assault in this country, but responsibility for making our students “know the facts” and ask “deep questions” still lies with us. I think it could be argued that our failure to do so has led, in part, to the current political climate in which we now find ourselves. Ultimately, civics education is a crucial part of our lives. Jonathan Zittrain, (professor at Harvard Law School (HLS), a professor of computer science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and a co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society) made the argument which brings us back to the whole child approach I started the section with, “Civics is not something you learn, it’s something you live” (Madison 2011).
The Jumbled “Brain-Attic”
Civic education is important, but it is not the end of the matter. I would humble propose that the great Sherlock Holmes (and by extension Sugra Mitra) is wrong. The jumbled “mind-attic” is the more desirable “mind-attic.” Perhaps “jumbled” isn’t the right word, but the point is still valid. Holmes and Mitra advocate for a mind devoted to training for a profession. Everything that is learned must be relevant to that end or it is discarded. To apply this to our 21st Century learning mindset, if it’s not relevant to future jobs or education, it is not worthy of being taught. That is the starting question of every effective learning activity according to the standard. But if we look beyond immediate employment or educational advancement, we can see the bigger picture – the whole child. We can see that education must include social and civic elements as well. And what about the arts? Admittedly Holmes played the violin “well”, but that was a diversion for his strained mind. Very few of us ever “use” our art education directly in our jobs. If we were given greater leeway in school to choose our content based on what we thought we were going to use in our jobs or in college, I doubt I would have taken most of my art classes – and I certainly wouldn’t have played baritone in 6th grade! And the list goes on, why did I have to read Shakespeare? Why did I take algebra? Why did I learn all those proofs in geometry? What was I doing in a mine mining gypsum in for my college geology course? None of these things tied directly to my future career. Yet I would argue they were all important. They all gave me a bigger picture of the world that I use whenever I consider anything – when I look at a problem, when I think about who to vote for, how to hang a picture, how and what to teach my students. If I was given more of a choice, I don’t know if I would have done any of those things. Of course, I like to learn new things, so maybe I would have, but the fact remains that when we’re young, we often don’t know what we’re going to do – or think we do, but will end up doing something completely different. I recently came across this video about how engineer Eiji Nakatsu solved a very difficult technical problem based on a lecture he heard about birds:
I sincerely doubt Mr. Nakatsu went to that lecture to with the intent of discovering a way to make bullet trains more quiet and fuel-efficient, but that was the result. He learned something for the sake of learning it and then applied it to his job. We don’t know what we’re going to end up using in our lives. How many lost opportunities will there be if we start specializing right away? If all of our learning is driven by career or college?
I began with one of my favorite fictional characters and I’ll end with one of my favorite real-life characters. I had the opportunity a few years ago to see Mythbusters live and I got to hear Adam Savage speak about his life and educational experience. I was surprised that he talked about his own education at such length and I was even more surprised at the thoughtfulness of his analysis. He talked about being a “generalist” and how he enjoyed learning many new skills, but only mastered them to a certain degree and then moved on learn something else. At first he thought this was a defect – that he couldn’t follow anything through, but eventually he learned to embrace his varied skill set and parlayed that into into a career on television. In 2012 Savage gave a commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College (a liberal arts college!) which touched on many of the same themes he said during the show:
I started to imagine about what I, a college dropout, might have to say to a large gathering of the opposite. I thought about why I was invited to be here. I mean, I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up. This is the first question adults love to ask kids isn’t it?: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid. To specialize so early.
Of course Sarah Lawrence is famous as a Liberal Arts college. Both in name and in politics. But I think that there’s actually a better term for the educational philosophy here. What you’ve gotten here is a foundational education. A foundation. A broad base. A platform from which to launch an idea, a building, a movement, a way of thinking, generational shift.
As a generalist and a Jack-of-all-trades, I agree completely with this paradigm. The broadness of my interests gives me an excellent perspective to do what I do, and I wouldn’t have it any other way…
When you’re an expert in one thing, your lens on the world is often limited to that of your field. This is, of course, illuminating in important ways, but it can also be restricting.
When solving a problem as a generalist (or to use a more arcane term: a polymath), I can compare the many fields I’ve dabbled in, their techniques, their philosophies, the ways in which they alter the lens through which I see things, and I can gain a literal perspective on what I’m doing.
This turned out to be the exact reason for my success in film special effects, and eventually on MythBusters.
Steve Martin has a lovely quote in his autobiography Born Standing Up, where he recounts being told at the beginning of his career: “you will eventually use everything you’ve ever learned.” This is entirely true.
Will we all use everything we’ve ever learned? I find it to be a compelling argument. We never know what we’re going to use and we often don’t even know it when we’re using it. How many lessons have we subconsciously put into practice without even realizing it? Of course, it’s impossible to quantify, but I’m certain the answer is more than zero. Savage is right. The specialization we expect at such a young age cannot be healthy. We risk losing many foundational concepts if education only focuses on work or college.
I realize that my question for this post is a bit of a conceit. I realize that the 21st Century learning question prompt probably meant more than skills and competencies linked to only college and careers…but it doesn’t say that. And there are forces at work in academia who either through omission or intention reinforce the idea that education should be only about future careers or higher education. This is a mistake. For the future of our country and the intellectual development of our society, education must be more. Our work doesn’t define who we our. It’s our shared humanity and maybe that’s what we need to learn more about.
We’ve already established this quarter that coaching is not about being an expert. It’s not “I Know” as much as it is “I Trust” (Goldberg). The module for this week’s post dealt with how to build that trust. One key element was to ask questions rather than provide answers. This is the approach Les Foltos advocates in from the beginning of his book; the kind of interaction in which good coaches, “emphasize inquiry over advocacy”(Foltos). However, simply asking questions is not enough. Questions can take any number of forms and, in fact, it is possible to ask questions in such a manner as to appear even more the expert than with making statements. Because of this, it’s important to get these questions right. We, as peer coaches are to “rely on questioning strategies rather than advocating for any particular solution to the issues facing their [our] peers” (Foltos). With the importance of asking questions in my mind, I wanted to know exactly how to ask non-judgmental or agenda-laden questions when coaching. Or to look at it another way, how do we move from the “I Know” to the “I Trust” only by asking effective questions?
Seek and Ye Shall Find
Doing research on the internet is always a crap-shoot. One never knows what one will find when looking for answers in the ether. There have been numerous times for this blog alone where I have been frustrated and not found exactly what I was looking for. This is not always bad, however, and it can often lead to even other avenues of inquiry which are equally beneficial, but the situation is generally one of searching and frustration. So needless to say, I was shocked when upon searching for an answer to my question, I came across a blog post on EdWeek that almost word-for-word addressed my question!
Elena Aguilar, whom I cited in last week’s blog post on not being an expert, had written a post 2 years ago that was practically a direct answer to my question. In fact, her post was prompted by a question she received from a new instructional coach looking for help as she entered her new position. The new coach was looking for things she could do over the summer to help her prepare and Aguilar provided a list of 5 things she could do to get ready (see chart below). One of those items involved asking non-judgmental, probing questions. The probing question is different from the clarifying question (which we also practiced recently) in that it is not seeking to understand a specific piece of information, but rather it is designed to prompt the teacher being coached to reflect on their practice. Getting teachers to reflect is goal. According to Aguilar, “a coach’s primary role is to elicit reflection. You can do this by asking open, reflective questions.” Aguilar then provides two pages worth of sentence stems to help new coaches frame their questions. In terms of practice, this is exactly what I was looking for. The stems are arranged by general category and clearly be evaluated for their probative nature. Here are the categories with a single example of each:
General Coaching Sentence Stems
Active listening stems (“In other words…”)
Clarifying stems (“Let me see if I understand…”)
Nonjudgmental responses (“I’m interesting in learning more about…”)
Probing stems (“What’s another way you might…?”)
Facilitative Coaching Stems
Cathartic (“What’s coming up for you right now? Would you like to talk about your feelings?”)
Catalytic (“Tell me about a previous time when you…How did you deal with that?”)
Supportive (“What did you do to make the lesson so successful?”)
Directive Coaching Stems
Informative (“There’s a useful book on that topic by…”)
Prescriptive (“Have you talked to ___ about that yet?”)
Confrontational (“I’d like to ask you about… Is that OK?”)
The stems operate on various levels and are applicable in a variety of situations depending on the teacher, the coach, the school, the administration, but they provide a basic framework. They form a staring point for me as I look at how to ask the right questions. Aguilar acknowledges their limitations, but points out their value as well. “You can modify these stems to make them feel more like you–but there are some useful parameters to keep in mind. First, don’t ask ‘why’ questions–sometimes it’s ok, but as a general rule it’s better not to. ‘Why…?’ can sometimes make someone feel a tiny bit defensive. It’s a request for an explanation and often doesn’t yield deep reflection. If you want to know ‘why,’ you might try saying something like, ‘It sounds like that evening didn’t go as you’d hoped. I’d love to hear more about how you made that decision…'” (Aguilar). The thing that struck me most about this is the avoidance of “why.” I always thought “why” questions were the highest level questions since they got at the causative nature of things and got us to reflect, but apparently there’s a built-in hostility with these questions (although it’s a “tiny” amount) so they should be avoided. I think in some cases, “why” is OK (and she acknowledges that as well), but I’m glad Aguilar provided so many alternatives. She provides a few more useful suggestions as well, “Another parameter is to keep your sentence stems short. Long rambling questions confuse listeners. After a while, you’ll find the stems you use most often, in a range of contexts. One of mine is, ‘Tell me more about that.'” (Aguilar). Two excellent tips here: keep the questions short and you’ll have a few go-to questions that you’ll use a lot. These are both good pieces of advice for me going forward.
Ultimately, I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I can use questions to help make other teachers better. There’s still something that feels artificial (“disingenuous?”) about it. I want to help people, not drive them to frustration by peppering them with questions. It’s going to be a journey and I’m just getting started. I’m still shedding the skin of the expert and molting into a coach, but Aguilar has given me some good tools I can use to flesh-out the philosophies I’ve already been exposed to. I look forward to the next step.
This quarter in EDTC 6105 we’re looking at coaching – a logical next step which looks at how we, as ed tech leaders, can help our fellow teachers improve. The ISTE standards this time around (1b and 1d) focus on “contribute[ing] to the planning, development, communication, implementation, and evaluation of technology-infused strategic plans at the district and school levels” and “implement[ing] strategies for initiating and sustaining technology innovations and manage the change process in schools and classrooms” (ISTE), but the prompt for the module is a more general question, “what is essential for successful coaching?” In the context of all of this, we read a couple chapters from Les Foltos’s Peer Coaching and this helped generate the question I am pursuing here; namely, how does one be a peer coach, but not an expert?
Not an Expert
Foltos points out several things a peer coach should be in his first chapter. In defining the relationship between the coach and the teacher being coached, he says the relationship should be friendly, personalized, manageable, private and supported. He goes on to further define the relationship as one characterized by respect and trust. It is in this context that Foltos makes the argument which gives me the most trouble: coaches should not be “experts.” Foltos lists a number of attributes a coach should have: able to build trust, build on what a teacher needs, communicates well and listens to teachers, is flexible, provides a safe environment, and is recognized as a strong/outstanding teacher, but then goes on to say, “Even a brief reading of these attributes makes it clear that teachers want a coach to be a peer, not an expert” (Foltos 26). He goes on to elaborate that, “Experienced coaches seem to understand instinctively that if coaches position themselves as experts, their colleagues may feel inferior” (Foltos 26). Both of these statements clearly identify being an expert as a barrier to the peer coaching relationship and they make sense in the context of trust Foltos is establishing. And trust is important. In fact, in his article on why coaching won’t work in education, Peter DeWitt identifies the lack of trust as a central component. “Unfortunately, there are schools that enter into coaching, but they put coaches in situations that will only foster resentment and not growth among teachers. Perhaps it’s these days of accountability and point scales on teacher evaluations, but there is a lack of trust between many teachers and leaders. Where there is a lack oftrust there will also be a hesitancy to try something new” (DeWitt). DeWitt’s point is well-taken, but he’s specifically discussing the misapplication of coaching principles as established by Foltos and others. So trust must be paramount, but does being an expert automatically violate that trust?
When Foltos discusses being an expert, it carries with it certain connotations which cast it in a negative light. As Foltos uses it, it’s less about a coach possessing expertise (the definition of being an expert) and more about a coaching teacher telling another teacher what to do. This is, of course, antithetical to the coaching relationship based on trust. Yet connotations not withstanding, being a “strong/outstanding” teacher is necessary in order to be a coach. You can’t coach something you know nothing about. So at some level there’s an acknowledgement by someone that the coach must know something about teaching – and must be good at it. Other authors agree. DeWitt argues that “The coach is seen as someone who has a level of expertise. Don’t confuse expertise with experience. Age doesn’t matter here as much as understanding the dynamics of a classroom, how to engage students, and the pressures of accountability” (DeWitt). For DeWitt it’s not about age or experience as much as it’s about expertise. Elena Aguilar compares coaches to mentors and establishes the importance of being an expert in each, “A mentor is an insider in a system, an expert in a field, who supports a novice,” yet, “The key difference between mentoring and coaching in schools lies in the purpose for the support and the formality around the process. Coaching is far more formal than mentoring, and has a more expansive end goal” (Aguilar). For Aguilar, knowledge/expertise is vital to each role, but the coaching role goes much farther than the mentor. There seems to be a recognition that a level of expertise is required in order to coach. Foltos admits the contradiction between being an “expert” and “expertise” when he writes, “The real irony here is that expertise is essential for Peer Coaches who want to avoid taking on the role of expert” (Foltos 26). So at the end of the day, it appears it is actually how this expertise is manifested that makes the difference. There’s nothing wrong with knowing…but a coach cannot define their relationship with their collaborative teachers in this context.
It’s All About Trust
When looking at the conflict between being an expert vs. having expertise and how this all applies to coaching, it all comes back to trust. My resource for this module is David Goldberg’s post on the Big Beacon engineering education website (what’s good for engineers is good for all of us). In his post, “A Distinction between Expert and Coach: ‘I Know’ versus ‘I Trust’” he sums up his argument almost before he even gets started (classic engineering technique). The title itself is a dead giveaway to where he’s heading. To make his argument he clearly defines both an expert and a coach:
Expert. An expert is a person with specialized knowledge and knowhow. In a sense, an expert is an “I know” and who use that knowledge to the benefit of their employer or client.
Coach A coach is, in a certain sense, on a dimension of interpersonal interaction anyway, the opposite of an expert. A coach does not know what his or her client should do. Great coaches trust their clients to find out what’s inside of them and discover their own authentic path. In this way a coach is an “I trust.” Coaches use that ability to believe in the resourcefulness, creativity, and wholeness of their clients to find their own authentic path. (Goldberg)
Goldberg’s perspective here is an elaboration on his earlier Huffington Post article where he defines coaching as, “a form of one-on-one inquiry and reflection in which the client is aided by the coaches listening and asking questions in ways that help the client find and overcome obstacles and then identify and realize possibilities.” In this context, “the coach comes to the engagement without judgment or any ideal sense of what the client should or should not be doing. In this way, the client can safely explore his or her own authentic path, style, and career in a safe, supportive environment” (Goldberg 2013). It is this latter half of Goldberg’s characterization where we can see he is alluding to trust. The coach must trust the one being coached to find his or her own path while the coach must be trusted to provide the safe and supportive environment. Trust is also a key component to Barrett McBride’s examination of “The coach and the Expert,” and she too acknowledges the difficulty of setting aside the role of expert to assume the role of coach (McBride 2017). It is difficult to trust – for both sides, but it is absolutely essential for successful peer coaching.
What is Essential for Successful Coaching?
Trust. If I had to pick one specific word to answer the question for this module it would be “trust.” The key to this trust is building relationships and it’s no coincidence that the first chapter of Foltos’s book is about the nature of the coaching relationship – and about 1/3rd of that chapter is about trust. I can now see that having expertise does not violate that trust. In fact, it’s a useful component to the coaching process, but approaching someone AS an expert – playing the “role” of expert (in Foltos’s terms), can undermine the coaching relationship before it even gets started. I think I’ve gained some insight here into the coaching process. It’s much more nuanced than perhaps I first thought. It also contains a relational dynamic that is going to take a fair amount of work to navigate successfully. But, of course, that’s why I’m here – I’m hardly an expert.
I think Peter DeWitt summarized the complex nature of the coaching dynamic quite clearly when he wrote his post on why it won’t work. I don’t know if he truly believes that all peer coaching in education is doomed to fail, but I think he’s acutely aware of the potential challenges that might inhibit successful implementation of the trusting, relationship-based, coaching model. He writes:
“When done correctly, instructional coaching can be so beneficial to our profession. However, there needs to be a positive school climate in place along with coaches who have credibility with their colleagues, and a principal who will support the process. Coaching is not about surface level learning, and too many times schools may say they have coaches but they are only doing it in name alone. Coaching is about deep, long lasting relationships between a teacher and coach. If we are entering into the coaching relationship we need to do it in a way that won’t be a waste time” (DeWitt).
We certainly don’t want to waste time an energy on something that can’t work. I think successful coaching can work, but we have to realize the nature of what we are doing. We have to learn to build relationships. We have to learn put aside our own agendas – our “expert roles.” We have to learn to trust.
I’ve never been a Boy Scout, but I’ve always liked their motto: “Be Prepared.” And as I was considering this week’s prompt, “Given the opportunities for students and teachers to collaborate globally, how can we help them develop strategies to troubleshoot and resolve issues that can come with increased use of emerging technologies such as digital video, audio, and social media?” I began to wonder about what issues teachers and schools might face when it comes to increased use of emerging technologies. I thought of my own experiences…internet not working, computers not plugged in/charged up, students intentionally removing keys from the keyboard or stealing mice (“mouses?”), but I was sure there must be more to it than this. My problems are all pretty pedestrian, but schools and ed tech professionals must be thinking more broadly. Fortunately, in my research I came across no shortage of lists of the various issues with technology to be addressed by teachers in the classroom. As I soon discovered, I could place some of the biggest problems into three broad categories.
The first article, the one I’ll use as my resource for this blog post, is rather extreme in places, but is a good example of the need for a solid pedagogical approach when using technology in the classroom. My resource is from a 2013 article by Alfonzo Porter at The Washington Post. In his article, “The problem with technology in schools,” he outlines some of the basic problems confronting teachers with regard to technology in the classroom. Citing a 2012 Pew Research Survey, Porter blames technology for issues like creating short attention spans in students, declining face-to-face social skills, and students being conditioned to find “quick answers” (Porter). Even more problematic than this may be the inability of students to log off and put their devices away during class time. Porter argues, “To remedy this, all technology should be left in lockers and not allowed in the classroom. Failure to comply should be met with confiscation of the device, which would only be returned to the parent. If parents believe that it is acceptable for their child to violate established school policies, then the schools are left with no other option other than to seize them” (Porter). As a teacher, I recognize that there’s a time and place for technology (and I HAVE taken devices away on occasion), but this zero-use policy is bit harsh. It seems to belie the fact that technology can be used in the classroom – something he actually mentions later when he cites the survey again and mentions that “Roughly 75 percent of the teachers surveyed said that the Internet and search engines had a “mostly positive” impact on student research skills. And they said such tools had made students more self-sufficient researchers.” According to the teachers, technology may be a problem, but it may also be the solution. I’m willing to cut Porter some slack on his seemingly harsh policy about electronic devices in the classroom (or “gizmos” as he calls them) as being a possible overstatement of what his position may actually be. I’ll also take the age of the article into consideration – although by 2013, cell phones were a staple of most students’ lives. In any case, I’ll stick with his statement about technology being the problem AND the solution. But it begs the question about the pedagogical application of technology in the schools. If it’s a question of how it’s used, then that’s an important first step.
Terry Heick at Teachthought and Michelle Harvin at EdTech Times both offer lists of problems with technology in the classroom that focus on how it’s used. Here’s both of their lists with brief explanations as to their points:
1. Pace of Change (Schools are not switching over fast enough, plus $) 2. Different Social Dynamics (Online classes may not be taken seriously) 3. Distraction (Teachers can’t watch what everyone’s doing all the time!) 4. Technology Out-thinking the Instruction (Tech makes it too easy) 5. Learning Innovation vs Improved Test Performance (More technology doesn’t guarantee improved test performance) (Heick)
5. The crutch (Copying and pasting instead of actually learning) 4. The crash (Tech problems at home may make material inaccessible) 3. The old-timer (Some teachers don’t use it, many aren’t trained to) 2. The Facebook (Distraction) 1. The Band-Aid (It’s not a guarantee of success) (Harven)
If we look at both lists, several items overlap. Distraction is on both lists as is some sort of idea that the learning becomes too easy or superficial. More interestingly is the idea that more technology doesn’t necessarily equal more success, which not only appears on both lists, but appears in the same spot (Harven decided to count “down” rather than “up”). So clearly the first step is to acknowledge that technology is not a magic bullet that will slay every problem schools face. In fact, adding more technology without the proper support may exasperate problems (and a greater cost) than actually fix anything. Pedagogy is key in using technology in a meaningful, impactful way in education. If digital education is going to work, it has to be done correctly.
Big Picture: Administrative Issues
The second type of problems that became apparent in my research tended to focus on issues administration might face when looking at technology in the school. Frank Smith’s article for EdTech Magazine and David Nagel’s piece for The Journal both highlight the administrative side of the equation. Again, here are their arguments (respectively):
75.9% — Budget limits
53.9% — Inadequate professional training
41.4% — Teachers resistant to change
38.2% — Inadequate network infrastructure
30.9% — Unreliable device/software options
29.6% — No systems to use technology for curriculum
17.8% — Other
13.2% — District doesn’t see immediate need for more technology (Smith)
Challenge 1: professional development. Challenge 2: resistance to change. Challenge 3: MOOCs and other new models for schooling. (Massive Open Online Course) Challenge 4: delivering informal learning. Challenge 5: failures of personalized learning. Challenge 6: failure to use technology to deliver effective formative assessments. (Nagel)
Smith’s results come from a survey of 150 education teachers and leaders while Nagel draws upon, “The NMC Horizon Report: 2013 K-12 Edition,” by the New Media Consortium as part of the Horizon Project. It’s fascinating to look at the similarities here: professional development is #2 and #1, and teacher resistance is #3 and #2 (and #3 on Harven’s list above). Two different groups, two years apart both identified two of the exact same problems (in approximately the same place) facing Ed Tech today. And it’s no coincidence given that the lack of training and the subsequent frustration and resistance go hand-in-hand. To me this speaks volumes. We must do a better job of educating our teachers on how to use technology. It’s approximately 1/3rd of the biggest problems facing the field right now! If you could solve 33% of your profession’s biggest problems by fixing one issue, wouldn’t you? This is nothing short of a call to arms for Ed Tech leaders to fix the problems that schools have been overlooking for too long.
Most of Smith’s other issues relate to hardware/infrastructure issues while Nagel takes us into different approaches to how education should work in a digital environment (more pedagogical). Both of these approaches are important as well, but I’m looking for commonality here so these points will have to wait for another day.
The Bigger Picture: The Social Network
As I write these lines, a news story from two days ago is still rattling around in my head. A twelve year old girl, Mallory Grossman committed suicide after some persistent cyber-bullying from her schoolmates. A tragedy. Now her parents are suing Rockaway Township School District for “gross negligence” in the death of their daughter. I can’t imagine what these parents are going through. This kind of loss is painful beyond words. But as I look at the position the school is now placed in – as being “responsible” through negligence for the death of this young girl, I can’t help but see another potential problem can come with “increased use of emerging technologies such as digital video, audio, and social media.” I don’t pretend to have any answers for this specific case, but it’s worth taking a brief look at some elements of this tragedy. New Jersey has one of the most stringent anti-bullying laws in the nation and they even have an 86 page guide: Guidance for Schools on Implementing the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act. In fact, it’s the school’s alleged failure to comply with this act that is being cited by the parents in the lawsuit. I’ve looked over guidelines and the law, but didn’t see much in the way of internet or social media-specific policies. This may be an oversight on my part or the law’s, but more information will come out about that as the case proceeds. In her coverage of the case, the Washington Post’s Samantha Schmidt pointed out that Mallory is not alone in being persecuted on the internet. “One recent study surveying 5,600 children nationwide between the ages of 12 to 17 found that 34 percent had experienced cyberbullying in their lifetimes” (Schmidt). This number is pretty high and I’m not surprised. The anonymity and power of the internet are a powerful lure, and a struggling adolescent can fall in to a pattern of abusing others at the click of a button. Digital citizenship education must be paired with anti-bullying campaigns. It’s HOW bullying is done in the 21st century. The problem is the parameters. The school can curtail your first amendment rights at school when you say you’re going to hurt another student. But what right/responsibility does that school have when you’re on your own Facebook page or your Instagram page or Snapchat or whatever? Should the school be checking every student’s internet footprint to see if they’re saying mean things about other students? Is it even possible? Again, I’m not sure how this will play out. The Grossman’s lawyer dramatically pushed the argument to its limits. “‘We are here today to bring light to the fact that this small device can be a lethal weapon in the hands of the wrong child,’ Nagel said holding up an iPhone in the Tuesday news conference” (Schmidt). The cell phone as a weapon – that’s the issue today. How schools respond to this and what programs they have in place to teach responsible digital behavior, as well as anti-bullying programs, will determine if cases like this become the norm in the future. Just like with the pedagogical issue, technology may be the problem, but it may also be the solution. Modeling and teaching proper digital citizenship and collaboration is key. “Informed and empathetic global citizens use online technologies to gain different perspectives about the world” (Lindsay). This is a far cry from the insulated, self-focused, vindictive behaviors that victimize so many adolescents (and adults) every year. This is yet another call for diligent Ed Tech leadership.
Conclusion: What’s the Problem(s)?
At the end of my research, I think the three biggest issues that we, as Ed Tech leaders, have to be prepared to address are pedagogy, professional development, and digital citizenship. Or, to state it as a series of directives, we must practice and promote effective pedagogy that utilizes technology for learning. We must train and support our teachers so they can function and flourish in the digital environment, and we must coordinate and implement meaningful digital citizenship programs that promote healthy internet behavior. Of course, these overlap with numerous ISTE standards, but i guess that’s the point. Learning the ISTE standards is a way to prepare us to meet and address these issues; it was just fun to turn it around this time and look at it from the problem side. And at least we know where we can find the answers.
ISTE (2011). “ISTE Standards for Coaches.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches
When looking at the prompt for this week’s EDTC6104 question, I was struck by a seeming discrepancy in the text of the question for the prompt and that of the coaching standard itself (ISTE coaching standard 3, indicator F). The standard/indicator calls for digital education leaders to “collaborate with teachers and administrators to select and evaluate digital tools and resources that enhance teaching and learning and are compatible with the school technology infrastructure” (ISTE 2011) whereas the prompt question for this module asks, “How do we evaluate, select and manage digital tools for teachers and students and resources that meet accessibility guidelines and fit within our institution’s technology infrastructure?” (emphasis added). While some of the wording may be slightly different, it is the addition of the clause “accessibility guidelines” that caught my attention and caused me to ask my own questions regarding this standard. Namely, what does this clause mean? Why was it added? What are some examples of these kinds of guidelines? And, what are my institution’s accessibility guidelines regarding technology?
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are approximately 6.5 million students ages 3-21 with disabilities that attend schools in the US. That’s 13% of the entire school population. And of that 13%, 35% have specific learning disabilities (NCES 2017). Technology has the potential to substantially help these millions of students, but only if it is done right.
Seale, Georgeson, Mamas, and Swain’s 2014 study, “Not the Right Kind of ‘Digital Capital'” outlines that technology alone is not the answer (2014). Their study focuses on the difficulties incorrect technology presents to disabled students in higher education. This study indicates that it’s not enough for people with disabilities to merely have access to technology, but that the technology must meet their specific needs. Students with specific learning disabilities benefit when technology matches their needs. Hall, Cohen, Vue, and Ganley’s 2015 report, “Addressing Learning Disabilities with UDL and Technology: Strategic Reader” (2015) shows what can happen when a more pedagogically holistic approach is applied to digital education for students with learning disabilities. Their study looks at how a technology-based system based on the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) matched with Curriculum Based Measurement (CBM) led to improved engagement and scores with the Strategic Reader program. Granted, this was paired against a non-digital classroom format, but the concepts found in the UDL go beyond merely being digital.
So how is the technology done right? Schools and other institutions are learning to establish and implement the aforementioned “accessibility guidelines” in an effort to make digital education meaningful to ALL students.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1975 requires a “free and appropriate public school education for eligible children and youth ages 3–21.” Even more broadly, “title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that businesses and nonprofit services providers make accessibility accommodations to enable the disabled public to access the same services as clients who are not disabled. This includes electronic media and web sites” according to my primary artifact for this entry, TechRepublic’s guide on “Creating an ADA-compliant Website.” (Nash 2012). In this 2012 piece, written by Nicole Nash, provides a checklist from the Department of Health and Human Services to see if your website is accessible to people with disabilities:
Every image, video file, audio file, plug-in, etc. has an alt tag
Complex graphics are accompanied by detailed text descriptions
The alt descriptions describe the purpose of the objects
If an image is also used as a link, make sure the alt tag describes the graphic and the link destination
Decorative graphics with no other function have empty alt descriptions (alt= “”)
Add captions to videos
Add audio descriptions
Create text transcript
Create a link to the video rather than embedding it into web pages
Add a link to the media player download
Add an additional link to the text transcript
The page should provide alternative links to the Image Map
The <area> tags must contain an alt attribute
Data tables have the column and row headers appropriately identified (using the <th> tag)
Tables used strictly for layout purposes do NOT have header rows or columns
Table cells are associated with the appropriate headers (e.g. with the id, headers, scope and/or axis HTML attributes)
Make sure the page does not contain repeatedly flashing images
Check to make sure the page does not contain a strobe effect
A link is provided to a disability-accessible page where the plug-in can be downloaded
All Java applets, scripts and plug-ins (including Acrobat PDF files and PowerPoint files, etc.) and the content within them are accessible to assistive technologies, or else an alternative means of accessing equivalent content is provided
When form controls are text input fields use the LABEL element
When text is not available use the title attribute
Include any special instructions within field labels
Make sure that form fields are in a logical tab order
Include a ‘Skip Navigation’ button to help those using text readers
As we can see, there are many similarities designed to make the material more accessible to more people – especially with regard to issues related to vision, reading, and organization. Nash also includes recommendations for procedures and tools to assist in meeting these suggestions. These are all good guidelines and they are a good place to start. But these guidelines are not really about education and their focus reflects that. As such, they primarily address disabilities not related to learning learning disabled students – the 35% of the 13% mentioned earlier. What about their access?
The School – Helping Students with Learning Disabilities
When examining this part of the question, I found two resources that help in different ways. The first is in practical application. Here, once again, I turn to the ISTE and Luis Perez and Kendra Grant’s 2015 article, “25 Tools for Diverse Learners.” In this overview, Perez and Grant break the tools into three categories to help learners with different learning styles (Perez and Grant 2015):
Tools for engagement and the affective network (collaboration)
Tools for representation and the recognition network (reading)
Tools for action, expression and the strategic network (writing)
The tools are practical and well-organized. They include explanations of how to use them and what kinds of students would benefit most. Perez and Grant are trying to help teachers where they need it most: in the day-to-day activities in their classrooms. They also take up the slack where the government guidelines fall short by specifically addressing learning disabilities.
Perez and Grant’s categories are also taken directly from the second source I looked at with regards to this category, the National Center for Universal Design for Learning’s UDL Guidelines. These guidelines fall into the “Why” of learning (Engagement), the “What” of learning (Representation) and the “How” of learning (Action & Expression). These three basic categories establish a solid philosophical and pedagogical foundation for education in general and, as we have seen with the Perez and Grant article, can be specifically applied to digital education. This whole-brain approach addresses many of the issues related to students with learning disabilities, and, as already demonstrated in the Hall, Cohen, Vue, and Ganley’s study, can be paired with specific technology tools to achieve better engagement and end-results.
As I see it, when it comes to accessibility guidelines and education, there’s the law and then there’s teaching. First, we must comply with the law. As it stands right now, guidelines exist for websites and I’m not sure how compliant most schools’ websites are with this. I believe there is work to be done here. It also creates more questions. How are federal ADA guidelines being applied in other tech components in the school? The website surely isn’t the only place students are interacting with the technology in the school. What about the LMS or LCMS? What responsibility do third-party developers or the schools themselves bear with regard to making sure that information is accessible and in compliance? I suspect this will be a big issue going forward. And then there’s the issue specifically with regard to learning disabilities. How is technology being used to address issues of access here? What are the legal ramifications of this under the ADA?
As usual, my question has ended up with me asking more questions, but I have a firmer grasp on the nature of “accessibility guidelines.” Right now, this is not a formal indicator in the ISTE standards, but maybe it should be. Perhaps that is the next question.
Hall, T., Cohen, N., Vue, G., and Ganley, P. (2015). “Addressing Learning Disabilities with UDL and Technology: Strategic Reader.” Learning Disability Quarterly. Vol. 38(2) p. 72-83. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5W5P9bQJ6q0UjNkdkNfcDFDYVU/view
ISTE (2011). “ISTE Standards for Coaches.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches
ISTE Connects (2017). “5 pro tips to make digital learning accessible to all students.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=943
Nash, Nicole (March 20, 2012). Creating an ADA-compliant Website. TechRepublic. Retrieved from http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/web-designer/creating-an-ada-compliant-website/
NCES – National Center For Education Statistics (Updated, May, 2017). “Children and Youth with Disabilities.” The Condition of Education. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cgg.asp
Perez, Luis and Kendra Grant (June 8, 2015). “27 Tools for Diverse Learners.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=434
Seale, j., Georgeson, J., Mamas, C., and Swain, J. (2014). “Not the Right Kind of ‘Digital Capital’: An examination of the complex relationship between disabled students, their technologies and higher education institutions.” Computers & Education. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5W5P9bQJ6q0TE9BMXdyMlhYQWs/view
UDL Center (April 24, 2017). “About UDL: Learn the Basics.” National Center on Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines_theorypractice