Adapting for Learning – The Ladder

It's been a week since I've written. That is both good and bad...I got a lot more work done this week, but now I have about 1000 ideas flying through my brain, and I have to organize some of them in order to keep functioning. This is my grandest idea out of all of them, and it will be a short series on how I think it will flesh out once I try it out.

First, some background: I've felt very convicted lately about what a true mastery class should look like. Right now, it is learner-centered in the sense that I am not standing up front and teaching everyone at the same time. But, I am still dictating the learning and the achievement by giving the assignments and expecting certain outcomes (ie 75% to move on). In Korea, this worked well, mainly because all of my learners were driven to do well in school. Here, in the US, I am having more of a battle with learners about their learning. I've come to grips with the fact that I cannot direct everyone's learning.

But, I can help them direct their own. That's what really spurred me to think this through a little more thoroughly. I'm calling it The Ladder.

Step 1 - Objectives. We still live in an objectives and standards-based world. I have certain topics I have to cover in my curriculum. My first step is to translate these standards into English for my learners and scaffold for them for each topic. This will be a generic form where they can see individual learning objectives that all connect back to a given state standard. This step is more for me and book keeping, but it is still good to expose the learners to standards and objectives.

Step 2 - Pre-Assessment. I am a bad pre-assessor. If I want to see changes in education that move toward measurable gains, I need to begin modeling that philosophy in my own teaching. This will simply be a multiple-choice Google Form that will give them a baseline score against the standards in the unit. I'll be using Andy Schwen's templates that he's shared on his blog. Extremely powerful tools there. Again, this will be a baseline assessment to help the learner pinpoint what areas they need to focus on in their planning phase.

Step 3 - Improvement Plan. This is where the learner really begins to take control. Once they have the feedback from their pre-assessment, they can begin to craft (with guidance from me) their improvement plan to fill in the gaps. The goal here is for a personalized education for each learner that is focused on their own benchmarks and allowing for more freedom to incorporate their interests. They already have their own blog, so I'm also thinking a blog post hashing out their learning goals and strategies will help them think through the process a little bit more and add another layer of accountability.

Step 4 - Learning. This is the nitty gritty. Learners are focusing on the individual skills and benchmarks they have identified as learning goals. As long as they are hitting their objectives, it is up to them how they learn it. If they need a podcast, I am willing to help that way. If they want to find a simulation to walk through, I'm fine with that. I'd be even more fine with them finding someone that works in the field they are learning about and talking with them. This is the broadest step on the ladder and because they have the plan in place, should be the exciting part of the learning. Ultimately, I would like to learn along with them, rather than direct the learning.

Step 5 - Re-assessment. As the learner progresses through their material, re-assessment is paramount in making sure they are hitting each objective and that misconceptions are caught quickly and corrected. This is where the mastery component comes into play. Assessment, reassessment, and reassessment until the concept is well-developed and understood. I'm picturing this as a lot of conversations with me and their peers as they work to put the icing on the cake, so to speak.

Step 6 - Summative Presentation. Not necessarily a stand-up-front-and-talk presentation, but something where they demonstrate their skills. I already have tests written, so that could be one method of demonstration. They could also put a comprehensive unit (content created solely by the learner) to be used in the future. Again, I want the learner to play to their skills and show me what they have learned in one concise, comprehensive fashion.

I realize that this is an extremely ambitious plan. I'm not planning on using it for another 2-3 weeks so I can get the details and the forms put together. I would really appreciate comments and thoughts on the plan above and what you think could be done better or differently.

Update: You can read Part 2, "Planning and Implementation," here.

8 thoughts on “Adapting for Learning – The Ladder

  1. Danielle H. says:

    I agree. I am planning to do our novel unit this year with student driven learning. I’m not quite ready to give everything over as these are Junior and this is the year they take THE test. I also teach inclusion so it can be difficult for some students. I am giving the kids some choice in what they read. They will work in groups to examine, (hopefully) reach, and assess the standards for this unit. Each group will be working to find ways to prove that they have reached or exceeded the goals. Maybe we can share results at a later date.

  2. Jess Meade says:

    I think the challenge is that it is a cultural shift for the students to take complete ownership of the process, pace, and application of learning. Last year, I experimented with this with my inclusion class because they were totally incapable of a teacher centered classroom for more than 30 seconds. They mostly really liked setting their own pace and making decisions but it took a month or so for it to be good. We don’t have computers so their projects were more paper based or using their phones. Mid way through the year, I started having formal conferences with them too – we took notes together on goals, achievements, etc. It helped a lot. This year I have some of those students in a different class and the class is naturally heading in that direction as they are so used to self sufficiency and the freedom to design their learning that my direction is not really valued anymore. It’s pretty cool – I’m much more comfortable in that facilitator role anyway. Some labs we do as a class, some will be planned and done individually or in small groups.
    My big recommendation is that you help them to stay organized and have check off lists and dates to be accountable to. I tend to set a general deadline for a test but let them decide which format and when they are ready after making study guides, quizzing with me and a friend. I’m not sure if this is helpful to you but I don’t know many teachers who are comfortable with self paced learning so I have made it up as I go. I would be very curious to hear more precisely what instructions you provide, etc.

    Oh – preassessments – yeah me too- need to work on that.


    • Brian Bennett says:

      Thanks for the thoughts, Jess. I did an informal survey with some of my learners on Friday, and the resounding vote was that they still feel like they need some kind of paper organization, which is really good to know. It’s also encouraging that they know what they need (in some part) to be successful.

      Thanks for the thoughts-

  3. Nancy Schunke says:

    This sounds great and very ambitious. I don’t know if I could do something like this being organizationally challenged as I am. I do really like the presentation aspect of the learning process. I don’t think kids get enough opportunities to share their learning in this manner.
    Suggestion for objectives…”I can” statements. I am using these in my chem classes and the students have responded well to them. They know what they need to learn and can evaluate themselves in kid friendly terms.

    This all looks great Brian! I wish I could get to the blog stuff. You are going to have to share with me how you set all of this up!

  4. Tracy Brady says:

    Great post, great ideas. Here’s a question: what do you do when you can’t get preassessment data? I teach beginning French so my students pretty well all start at ground zero. Any suggestions?

    • Brian Bennett says:

      That’s a really tough question. I’m teaching freshman biology and sophomore chemistry, but they’ve had science prior to seeing me. Maybe you could focus on the cultural portion of it rather than the speaking/grammar?

      What sorts of expectations does your admin have on pre-assessment? Mine pushes very hard, but again, they do have some background. I guess I really have no idea.

  5. Excellent post and ideas Brian! Your passion in this post and in general always inspires me to help put the students first. I feel my biggest problem is letting go of control in how the class is structured, which is why I struggle in fully adopting a mastery approach. With that said, here’s my question: are you going to make the podcast on the fly or have them all ready as you did before in a more traditional flipped mastery approach in Korea. Also, with respect to the other resources they can learn from (I assume you are referenceing things similar to what Aaron talked about in his ACS preso, like POGIL, etc.), will you have them collected and in a place for students to choose (i.e., experts names in the field, links to activities, etc.) or are you going to keep it entirely open ended with respect to how they learn. Best of luck! Keep us posted.

    • Brian Bennett says:

      As of right now, I am planning on making all of my “normal” resources available for learners. So, if I have podcasts recorded for a lesson or topic, I’ll post them. But, the learners will not get credit based on watching (or not watching) them. I’ve had some tell me that they like the podcasts, others don’t. The same goes with POGIL, articles, experts, etc. I’m going to continue to provide the resources to start them down the road, but after that, they just need to be accountable to me based on what their learning goals are.

      Thanks for the encouragement. I’m sure this will be leading to multiple posts in the future.

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