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Monday, 14 April 2014

Making the Shift to “Conditions Necessary for Success”

From an historical perspective, our public education system is in its infancy, and inclusive education is something new. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the family was the basic unit where socialization and education took place.  Families were dependent upon the economic contributions of their children.  Any formal education in Canada during that time was the responsibility of religious orders and its focus was on catechism. In the early 19th century, the idea of formalized schooling began to gain some popularity.  With the advent of new and massive immigration along with the move from a rural to an industrialized society during the mid-1800’s, the push for public education became more prevalent. Legislation for Special Education only began to take root in the latter half of the 20th century. For more information, please see: "History of Education".

So while education often looks to be a static institution, it is actually an evolving entity that responds to the changing cultural forces in society.  As we move forward in the 21st century, it is my firm hope that we will no longer require a distinction for “Special Education” but rather, the focus will be on accessible learning for all students; i.e. the focus will be on “equity” rather than “equality”.

Note: This image was adapted by OEHR from the original graphic:
http://indianfunnypicture.com/img/2013/01/Equality-Doesnt-Means-Justice-Facebook-Pics.jpg
Currently, to support and guarantee just treatment for our identified students we use Individualized Education Plans.  But educators of the 21st century must acknowledge the uniqueness of all individuals and recognize that instruction and assessment should be tailored, or individualized, for ALL students.  Hattie’s research indicates that labeling students with an identification actually impacts their achievement negatively.  How much better education would be if we could do away with labels, and start focusing rather on the conditions necessary for success for each of our students!


Teaching and learning in the 21st century is shifting to a focus on Assessment FOR Learning and Assessment AS Learning practices.  With this shift to formative assessment, education will be learning-driven as opposed to achievement-driven.  21st century teaching and learning will be student-centered and begin with student assets and needs, thus making the IEP and formal identification superfluous. 21st century teaching and learning will make accessible to students the technology and teaching practices necessary for learning to take place and for all students to meet, and yes, even exceed their current potential. 

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Why Are You Blending?



Today I attended the On the Rise K-12: Enhancing Digital Learning Conference.  It was a great experience, and I met some really passionate people that I was truly inspired by.  One such person was Anthony Perrotta.  He led a session on Student Voices.

This year, some of our Secondary teachers were provided a new digital resource to support learning for an Applied-level course. The resource is really a digital text, with animations, applets, videos, bookmarking features, note-taking features, a calendar, quiz tools, etc.  Basically, it is essentially a Learning Management System, not just the e-text teachers were expecting to get.

The feedback on this resource has been pretty mixed.  While the teachers are seeing some merits to having this e-resource, they are also finding that perhaps we targeted the wrong students.  It has been suggested that students in an Academic course, who are perhaps more self-motivated might benefit more from this resource.  Overall, some of the teachers felt that the students in the Applied stream work better with a traditional text and traditional handouts.

I was surprised by this feedback. I believed that students who often struggle with dense text and who lack organizational skills would benefit from a blended learning environment.  But after today, I realized that not all blended learning environments are created equally.  Just because we provide teachers with digital tools does not mean that they will change their teaching practice.  The tools are only helpful if we choose to use them to teach differently.

A blended learning environment is not beneficial to all students all of the time.  Anthony Parrotta reminded me that it's not the Learning Management System or the technology or even the "blending" that makes school engaging and motivates students.  It's about using the technology and digital tools to permit our students to be the drivers of their own education.  When we provide teachers with new technology, we have an obligation to provide them with support that will help them consider how they can use those tools to teach differently.  There is no point in using a 21st century tool in a 20th century way.

For blended learning to positively impact our students, both teachers and students need to take on new roles in education.  The teacher needs to become a co-learner in the classroom.  Teachers and students need to be jointly responsible for the knowledge building that happens in the classroom.  This is a huge shift in paradigm for many of our teachers and our students; they need time and opportunities to discuss what this means and what it would look like in their classrooms.

Anthony said "Student voice is grounded in ownership".  I firmly believe, I in fact KNOW from experience, that ALL students can take ownership for their learning when explicitly taught how to do so and given the tools they need to be successful.  Digital technology can not only engage our students, it can empower them to be active participants in their learning rather than passive recipients of information.

Teachers need support to know how to teach this to their students.  It is not enough to teach our students content knowledge.  We have to teach them how to be learners.  The power of a Learning Management System is not in its ability to provide students with online content and its not in its ability to grade students or even for them to easily submit their assignments to a dropbox.  The power of a blended learning environment is in its ability to put students in the driver's seat, to empower them to become collaborators in their own learning, and to choose who they would like to connect with to share that learning and how they would like to share it.

How are you using a blended learning format to ignite a passion for learning in your students?