This week in my studies with the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University, I am continuing to explore ISTE Coaching Standards 1 and 2 by investigating what effective student learning looks like. Just as norms are an important part of a peer coaching relationship, so too is a shared vision for what effective 21st century learning looks like. This shared vision creates a starting place for any collaborative work.
The future of education is changing to respond to the internet’s information age. With an overwhelming amount of information accessible online, the role of teachers is less about possessing knowledge and more about facilitating learning driven by the students themselves. It is about preparing students for the emerging skills of tomorrow’s jobs. Resources like the Partnership for 21st Century Learning and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) set out to define what effective students learning looks like to get there. Commonly referred to as the four C’s, communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity are referenced as the basic elements of 21st century learning. However, these skills can appear vague or nebulous compared to the daily needs of instruction. As a result, it is important for coaching teams to define which skills are most important to student success (Foltos, 2013). The work to define these characteristics becomes “a road map that describes what teachers need to do to improve their practice and specifics on how to shape teaching and learning activities to reach their goals” (Foltos, 2013, p. 105). Foltos (2013) provided a solid reminder that while it is easy to say that students need to learn 21st century skills, it is more challenging to transfer skills such as critical thinking to daily classroom practice.
How do we turn these frameworks, standards, visions and characteristics into realities? What does it looks like, specifically in an English language arts classroom?
This quarter in my studies in Digital Education Leadership at Seattle Pacific University, I am studying the practice of peer coaching. I have arrived to the table unsure of this role and ready to explore the model alongside my cohort of peers who come from rich and diverse educational environments. So, I am starting with the basics.
What is peer coaching?
While I have not worked in a school with peer coaches before, I have heard the term used in the past. Unfortunately, I have been disinterested because of my perception that it was a form evaluation. In an age when teachers are often blamed for educational malpractice, it is easy to be defensive. Additionally, while the practice of observation is often highlighted as a helpful component of coaching, it is closely tied with evaluation. Since I might not be alone in this perception, perhaps perception is an important consideration when implementing a peer coaching model. In order to address perception, it is best to start with the what before the how. According to Foltos (2013), “A Peer Coach is a teacher leader who assists a peer to improve standards-based instruction by supporting the peer’s efforts to actively engage students in 21st century learning activities” (p. 3). Integral to this process is a coach’s ability to guide a peer towards autonomy (Foltos, 2013). It is also a collaborative process between two peers, not a hierarchy of superiority. Transparency in these goals can also perhaps go a long way in establishing an effective practice.
What is essential for successful coaching?
Based upon the work of Foltos (2013) and my own experiences, the following themes have become apparent.
A coaching relationship needs to consist of willing participants, who are open to building trust with one another (Foltos, 2013). This trust is the foundation of a working relationship that encourages risk-taking and growth.
It is important to set goals and norms collaboratively. While it can begin with a school or district goal, it can also stem from goals set by the coaching partnership (Foltos, 2013).
Establishing modes of respect is a separate consideration from participation. It is important to address time as a factor in a coaching relationship, and recognizing certification hours and/or compensation for work being done outside of the school day can properly value the process.
How do you create a peer coaching model that doesn’t suggest or feel like an evaluation system?
I also had the opportunity to implement this lesson during its creation, revising the lesson in real time to meet student needs. While this project was new territory for me, allowing more student choice and use of individualized technology than ever before, I can attest to its success. Check out the media gallery above to see some screenshots of their work. I hope to share some of their fully finished products soon! If you already use book trailers in your classroom or are interested in trying to, I encourage you to review the lesson and provide your feedback in the comments.
The next step in my graduate coursework in Digital Education Leadership is to work my way through the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Student Standards in order to implement technology for effective teaching, learning, and assessment. First, I will address ISTE 1 by focusing on how students use technology to apply existing knowledge to new ideas. One of my educational philosophies is that creativity is more effortlessly fostered when students are first equipped with basic tools in their pockets.
A student in an art class to whom a lump of clay is given can perhaps be innovative and creative in his or her manipulation. However, this same student, if provided with a background knowledge of the clay’s composition, the temperature and method of firing, and the instruments and hand techniques used to manipulate it, can use this information in conjunction with personal ideas to break new ground. In my experience, this same principle applies to educational technology. Unfortunately, I have often found that students who are given free choice often gravitate towards the same tools they have used before. Perhaps, front loading instruction around certain tools can prepare students for experimentation and innovation later. With this as an important consideration in mind, I posed the following question:
“How can students use their knowledge of a recently read book to create a teaser for this novel? What tools would allow students to both engage a potential new reader and share important literary elements of the story (such as tone, theme, characterization, setting, etc.) in a structured but creative way?”
Forever on a quest to engage new readers, I hope to provide opportunities for my middle school language arts students to work with texts in an engaging, yet still structured way. While I have always required outside reading from students, I am averse to traditional book reports, perhaps due to my own hatred of reading as adolescent. I attempt to avoid such a fate for my own students. Student choice in book selection is an easy first step in encouraging reading for pleasure. The second step is implementing technology effectively.