A Look at Self Directed Learning at the High School Level

Maciejewski, Gloria

Blakeway, Kristi. (2014, Sept. 2) Blakeway: Riding a roller coaster – How self directed learning changed my views. P21 Blog, Volume 1, Issue 7, No. 20. Retrieved from: http://www.p21.org/news-events/p21blog/1490

This is a blog post written for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, which, if you haven’t check out, you should!  In a nutshell, Kristi Blakeway writes about her experience as a vice principal at Thomas Haney Secondary, a self-directed learning high school in Maple Ridge, B.C. Canada. She clearly outlines in her blog post the way this self-directed system is organized.
The school is part of the Canadian Coalition of Self-Directed Learning (CCSDL) which is an organization of secondary schools throughout Canada that are dedicated to the personalization of learning. She touches on the elements of inquiry, collaboration, how work spaces are designed and what test taking looks like. Admitting that she was bewildered at the seeming lack of structure she was used to in traditional education settings, Blakeway chronicles her emerging understandings of the self directed model.  Elements of the article that I found appealing were the descriptions of close teacher and student relationships, the amount of free or flexible time the students have and the strong collaboration that informed the practice on site. As someone who is always considering home-school (or unschooling) as an option for my own children, it was quite enjoyable to get a look at how a high school that values the individual learning styles of each unique student  looks like.

Blended Learning: Working with only one iPad

Sullivan, Maureen

Weller, K. (2014) Blended Learning: Working with One iPad.
Retrieved from: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/blended-learning-working-one-ipad

Summary: Kristin Weller describes how she used the Show-me App to allow students to teach each other ways to solve math problems by way of podcasting. Although she only has one iPad, she has developed a way for students to use the app that is then accessible to all students. After pairs finish recording their podcasts, she uploads them to her interactive whiteboard to review skills and new standards. This process of recording their thinking in a podcast reinforces the students’ understanding, and also solidifies their thinking as they teach the problem to a peer.

Evaluation: I find it encouraging to see how a teacher continues to integrate technology into her class in meaningful ways, even if she doesn’t have enough devices to go around simultaneously. Many teachers are quick to point out the deficits in their classrooms regarding technology, rather than thinking though how to get around those barriers.

Teacher and School Librarian Collaboration

Maureen Sullivan

Teacher and School Librarian Collaboration: A Preliminary Report of Teachers’ Perceptions about Frequency and Importance to Student Learning.
by Patricia Montiel-Overall and Patricia Jones

Source: Canadian Journal of Information & Library Sciences. Mar2011, Vol. 35 Issue 1, p49-76. 28p

Summary: This peer-reviewed article examines the tenuous relationship between teachers and teacher-librarians. In particular, it focuses on the level of collaboration between the two parties, as well as teachers’ attitudes and perceptions toward their collaboration. The study found that although the level of collaboration was varied, and more often than not, more traditional in nature, teachers valued collaboration and felt that it was valuable for student learning. It also highlighted some of the barriers to higher order, integrated curriculum collaboration, where teacher librarians assisted not only in the finding of information, but also in teaching and evaluating student learning alongside the classroom teacher. As a recommendation, the authors call for more advocacy and explanation of the power of this type of collaboration, in order to change both the internal and external restraints that are keeping it from frequently occurring.

Evaluation: While this scholarly article is formulaic in its description of the study, the sources listed and data shared helps paint a picture of the current landscape of teacher librarian collaboration, and the steps that must be taken to move it forward.

The Boss Level Challenge: Designing and Doing

Amy Woods

Selkirk, K. (2014). Boss Level Challenge: Designing and Doing. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/boss-level-challenge-designing-doing-kate-selkirk
Boss level, a project based inquiry unit, provides students with the opportunity to learn by doing. Students are presented with a real-life challenge, “taking on the role of an artist, filmmaker, chef, or any other number of real life jobs.” Students must then acquire the skills necessary to complete the challenge. For example, one project required students to prepare an authentic Thai meal for 100. To make this happen, students had to not only learn to cook a meal, but also had to advertise and promote the event. Though this type of challenge seems daunting, the author offers five tips to help teachers create their own boss level challenges: Start with a passion, plan a window of time for the project, design an achievable challenge that fits your topic, enlist the help of others, and plan mini-lessons to support students through each step of the process. 
The video that accompanies this article is inspiring. The enthusiasm of both the teachers and the students involved in the Boss Level is contagious and a reminder of what learning should look like. 

Academic Skills on the Web Are Tied to Income Level

Poundstone, Heather

Rich, M.  (2014). Academic skills on web are tied to income level.  The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/24/us/academic-skills-on-web-are-tied-to-income-level.html?_r=2
Rich explores research showing that wealthy students are more likely to achieve better results on tests than poor students.   It goes onto further explain that with the advent of the Internet, new research has found that poorer students have a harder time than their wealthier peers in using information literacy skills to find information.   This research was done by Donald J. Leu for the Reading Research Quarterly, using a small sample of students.  It shows that all students lack information literacy skills, but there is a wider gap between wealthy students and their poor counterparts.  The research shows that while students may be tech savvy and able to use the Internet for social media, they are unable to access reliable information.   The research focused on seventh-graders from two Connecticut middle schools, analyzing their test scores and information literacy assessments.   Students who came from homes from a higher socio-economic status exhibited skills somewhat more than an extra school year’s worth of online reading ability compared to students from a middle class background.    The researchers were unable to study students from a lower socio-economic status.  Rich explains that information literacy skills are necessary for students to be successful in school and beyond.  He further explains that most teachers do not teach these important skills due to the fact that they misunderstand their importance and how these skills can be used in education.  They also assume that students can navigate the internet to meet their information needs.    The research also found that students in the lower income school were required to use the internet for school assignments 22% less than their wealthier peers.   Even though the wealthier students spent more time on the Web finding information, when assessed as to whether they could determine the reliability of facts on a web page, only 25% were able to do so.  16% of the lower income students were able to complete the same assignment.  The research found that the gap between these student’s skills was smaller than anticipated.   Some schools are expanding their information literacy instruction, but with the implementation of the Common Core Standards, many are concentrating on text based learning.   Teachers do not realize that students have difficulty evaluating sources for reliability, whether it is textual or digital.  Both are important and should be taught.   

From my readings that I have completed in the course of my time at SJSU, I was not surprised by the findings of this research.  Numerous research has pointed to the fact that most people have difficulty with information literacy skills, even graduate students.  I did expect there to be a gap between wealthier students and poor students due to the fact that wealthier students have far more opportunities to interact on the Web.  Having worked in inner city education for the past 16 years, I have seen the disadvantages that poor students face.  Most of them have limited access to technology and the Internet at home, come from backgrounds where their parents have limited education and are unable to help or motivate their children, and where children have few literacy opportunities at home.  I was somewhat surprised that wealthier students did not have better information literacy skills, but it proves the point that people are generally overconfident in their ability to find reliable information.  This is why teacher librarians are important and these skills should be taught from kindergarten on!   Imagine if every school had a teacher librarian and students were taught information literacy skills from day one.  Students would be information literacy experts by the time they graduated from high school and have the 21stCentury Skills they need to be successful!  I think that this article does a good job in pointing out the importance of teaching all students these valuable skills and hopefully school districts will start listening and make this a priority by hiring credentialed teacher librarians for every school!

Cognitively Priming Students for Learning

Amy Jessica McMillan

Willis, J. (2014). Cognitively Priming Students for Learning. Retrieved November 7, 2014, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/cognitively-priming-students-for-learning-judy-willis

Judy Willis, a neurologist turned elementary school teacher turned education professor, writes an ongoing blog for Edutopia about brain-based teaching strategies. This article explains how to grab students’ attention so their brains will work to learn more. Willis’s advice involves inviting students to make predictions about upcoming units. For example, the teacher might choose a particularly thought-provoking image or video and provide more hints and clues about it as the unit goes on. According to Willis, “When students want to know required information to create solutions to problems that interest them or to create products that they care about, the brain applies the effort to learn what is required to achieve desirable goals” (para. 8).  In other words, our brain is automatically set up to be curious and to take steps to satisfy this curiosity. We teachers have the job of making students want to know more.

I am a frequent reader of Dr. Willis’s blog. She gives practical ways that we teachers can work with students’ brains to help them learn. In this article, she reminds readers that students who have “relevant goals” are motivated to achieve them. Their brains are hardwired to work towards goals that make sense to them personally. On the other hand, students who don’t see school as relevant, do not see the value in working hard. Then, they reinforce that feeling by failing and therefore seeing even less worth in trying. Their brains are telling them that the effort would be better served elsewhere. This explanation makes a lot much sense to me because I see this all the time in the classroom. The trick is to make the students curious, to make them want to know more. Their brains will take it from there.

Teacher spends two days as a student and is shocked at what she learns 

Gloria Maciejewski
ET – Educational Theory  

Strauss, V.  (2014, Oct. 24) Teacher spends two days as a student and is shocked at what she learns. The Washington Post. retrieved from: 


This is an article I think every teacher should read, no matter where they are in the career.

 It appeared first on a blog by Grant Wiggins, author of Understanding by Design. It turns out that it was written by his daughter, Alexis,  who had transition out the role of teacher after 15 years and was now an instructional coach at an American High School overseas. As part of an introduction into her new role, her administrator asked she shadow a 10th grader and a 12th grader.  She uses her experiences to form three reflective  Key Take-Aways.
1.  Students sit all day long and it is exhausting (no surprise there)
2.  High school students are asked to passively absorb for (a shocking) 90% of the time.
3.  Students wind up feeling like a nuisance all day long.

She then goes on to frame what she would have done differently given the chance to do it all again.

New teachers and old could benefit from this article. I wish there was an elementary version. Wake up teachers and get your kids moving and active.