Education vs Regurgitation

by Beth Knittle on July 16, 2014

As a brand new teacher I believed I could go thorough my scripted lesson plan, and point like a conductor to select students who I could guide through to the desired out comes.  I believe that if they played along, paid attention and did the work I provided they would all learn and be successful on the tests. If we all just followed the lesson all would be well.

But…. there was always the fidgety kids in the back who constantly interrupted, raised their hand and asked all sorts of awkward questions.  These questions would derail my perfectly scripted lesson.  As I “matured” as a teacher I felt successful if I could avoid these questions, or stifle them. It was a good thing, I mastered classroom management.  I was so naive.

I was seeking students who were good at regurgitation. If my test results were good, then I was a good teacher.  As I continued to grow as a teacher I began to really appreciated the fidgety kids.  They were into learning, they were out of the box thinkers, connectors, imaginative, impulsive and curious.  These were the students who were going to push the envelop, test the limits, create, invent and change in the world.

These student were not passively waiting to be taught but eagerly trying to educate themselves. They were active, enthusiastic learners stuck in a passive, measured learning environment. These students needed to learn the skills required to be life long learners.  I had to rethink my role and shift my teaching practice. I could still teach the content I was required to but I needed to do it in a way that focused on the skills of a life long learner in an active student centered way.  The advent of the mobile technology and ever growing abundance of internet resources has made this easier then ever.

We can tailor our instruction to individual students allowing then to benefit from their strengths and gird up their weaknesses. We can provide them with the skills to continually learn and adapt to the ever changing world of work, information and technology.


Supporting Complex Change

by Beth Knittle on July 5, 2014

Integrating technology, project based learning, personalized instruction, etc all require a change in a teacher’s pedagogical practice.  That is a pretty complex change as there is nothing simple about people, teaching and learning.  The teachers I support are my ‘students’. I need to know what is not working or missing to help them achieve success as they continually fine tune and perfect their craft.  Over the years I have used Knoster’s thoughts on managing complex change. There are various versions of the model floating around the internet. I have include one below.

The chart for Managing Complex Change helps me figure out what they are missing, what hinders them from having success integrating technology or implementing other changes. Once I know where the trouble lies I can develop the best way to support them.  The answer isn’t always more training.  In some cases more training* just hinders the process.  Sometimes it is just helping a teacher find the vision of what could be, or the incentive to keep plugging away or procure the resources they need to be successful. So when things are not going well it is worth using this model to help pin point the problem.  It is also helpful to remember our teachers are individuals and sometimes whole group strategies are not very helpful.

* Please read my previous post and my take on training.

Knoster Model for Managing Complex Change Knoster Model for Managing Complex Change

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Thinking about Professional Development

by Beth Knittle on June 24, 2014

Summer is a time for relaxation and renewal for educators.  It is the season where we recharge the batteries, reflect on our success and failure and rethink what we will do next year.  During this “down time” many educators participated in curriculum writing and professional development.  Tim Holt recently shared his thoughts on professional development are we preparing cooks or chefs? They echo some of my thinking.

I dislike the term “training”  I am often asked if I will be offering training on iPads in the classroom, or using a particular app or web service.  This implies that there is a series of steps and procedures that one must memorize and implement in order to be successful. I can show you how to use a tool but implementation is more an art then a process.  Learning and teaching is a very personal and human endeavor it requires a lot of minor adjustments and personalization. You can not train someone for this.

Over my career of working with teachers in a variety of schools and settings I have noticed that a teacher’s ability to adapt technology to education has little to do with their ability to use the technology. It is more a reflection of their understanding of how learning takes place, understanding of pedagogy and ability to adapt to student needs. It comes from practicing the art of teaching, constant reflection on their experiences and making adjustments as needed.

My role is to provide professional development and support to teachers as they implement new tools in their learning environment and just as teachers must personalize learning and meet individual student needs, so must I.  This means I must offer a variety of opportunities, levels if you will, to meet teachers who are at different points along the tech integration learning curve.  VERY BROADLY speaking teachers can be grouped into three categories.

The Ready and Able:  These teachers have a strong understanding of pedagogy and learning.  Their classrooms are very student centered and flexible. They exhibit life long learning skills and feel free to experiment.  They are always looking for different ways to inspire their students and push them to reach new goals. The ready and able need very little PD.  They attend the basic how to workshops that introduce new tools and tech. Often they bring new tools to the attention of the tech department.  They get the basics of how things work and are ready to see if they can apply it in their classroom. One of my goals is to encourage these teachers to share their experience and strategies with others.  They may not need PD but PD needs them.

The Strong but Unsure: These are great teachers – they know their students, they understand learning and are very competent in their content areas.  They tend to be a little timid, or lacking self confidence.  This may come from within or be a product of the administrative climate in which they work.  They want what is best for their students, they work hard for student success.  These are the teachers that benefit from the experiences of the Ready and Able. These teachers need PD that gives them confidence to use new tools (the how to) and strategies and workflows for using them in the classroom.  They need PD which demonstrates how implementing the tech is a positive benefit for their students it provides them the confidence they need to implement. Discussion groups, visiting classrooms, attending conferences and watching it in action are a plus.

The Overwhelmed: They react to the many initiatives, mandates and changes that happen in education with the phrase “Not Again!” They focus on the individual components of initiatives and mandates but not the big picture of how it all fits together.  They tend to be rule followers and procedural.  This I believe is a coping mechanism to try to get out of the weeds.  I have seen the Ready and Able and the Strong but Unsure become the Overwhelmed, it can happen to anyone.   Professional development that focuses on new tools and tech tends to add to the feeling of being overwhelmed.  It is just one more thing they are being asked to implement and it is not effective. The teachers who fall into this group need to reconnect to why they are teaching, they need to be re-inspired into the joy of learning.  Professional development that helps bring out their creativity and fun side, to see the big picture is essential.   This PD can be around inspiring books, a series of TED Talks and inspirational student stories.  We all need these from time to time to keep the positive creative juices flowing. The PD should not focus on what to do but why.

Now it is my time to reflect on the success and failures of the past year and make a plan for next.  So much to think about and so many exciting possibilities I already can’t wait for next year.


Promise, Potential, Achievement

May 22, 2014

First let’s set the context Take a moment…. Watch Hank Green – The Myth of Greatness and John Green – Deserving If you have time read John Green: Teenager, Aged 36 to give some perspective to what you just watched.  It’s a bit long, it begins as a book review but then goes back to […]

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An Apology

April 27, 2014

Hi All, I usually try to reply to commenters but have been neglectful recently.  I also had intentions of working on an update for the blog. However I have had  to cut back a bit due to medical issues the last couple of weeks.  Nothing serious just feeling more wiped out as a result.  Feeling […]

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Time for an update

March 31, 2014

I have been looking at my blog recently and it is in need of an update. The theme is several versions behind and I need to clean up my links and remove outdated material.  Now if I can just find the time.  But first I’ll procrastinate a bit more by reviewing a variety of other […]

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Finding the Right Tool

March 31, 2014

Many districts today struggle with finding the right tool for the right job, in teaching and learning there are different jobs; with the advent of PARCC, a computer given assessment, the need for schools to acquire new technology is great.   There is vigorous debate about what that tool should be.  If you do any […]

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