Culturally Relevant Teaching: How Do We Create Equitable Learning Environments?


This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >

Elementary Students
Students enter the classroom with their own specific learning needs, styles, abilities, and preferences. They also bring with them their own cultures, backgrounds, and personal histories. In culturally responsive classrooms, teachers make standards-based content and curricula accessible to students and teach in a way that students can understand from their varying cultural perspectives. If the goal is for each student to succeed academically, how are we using the cultural capital available in our classrooms to capture attentions, engage students, and make curricula relevant?

On this episode of the Whole Child Podcast, Sean Slade, ASCD’s director of whole child programs, and guests explore what it means to, as Gloria Ladson-Billings writes, “empower students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes”; how to create a positive classroom learning community; and what supports teachers need to serve their diverse students.
Listen to the episode below or download here.

How Can Project-Based Learning Motivate Students Even Further?


This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >

We all know that project-based learning (PBL) works, and there is research to support this. Districts leaders and individual teachers use PBL to deliver content, including content aligned to new, rigorous standards such as the Common Core State Standards or the Next Generation Science Standards. Projects integrating this learning strategy can come in all shapes and sizes; some projects are interdisciplinary while others focus on a single discipline, and each project can use varying levels of technology. Though each project can cover a wide variety of topics, there are common “essential elements,” as identified by the Buck Institute for Education, that must exist for true PBL to take place. While these elements provide a great foundation for building effective projects, educators can take project design even further to motivate all learners.

True Voice and Choice
To effectively implement PBL in the classroom, educators must first motivate and engage their students. Teachers can often accomplish this by allowing students to provide input on their learning experiences. When educators begin providing voice and choice to students, however, they often do so sparingly. Instead, teachers need to personalize each student’s level of voice and choice based on how they learn. On the ambitious end of offering voice and choice, an educator can serve as a conductor overseeing how students will shape their learning experiences, what path they will take, and how they will demonstrate that learning. Educators should continually aim for this student-centered learning style, and not adhere to a permanent practice of offering limited voice and choice.

Authentic Work
One necessary element of PBL is that students engage in authentic and meaningful activities. In order to reach this level of engagement, students must be able to envision an authentic audience that would benefit from their learning activities. Engaging students in authentic work can make it easier for them to see how their activities could influence an authentic audience by introducing them to real world challenges. Reflecting on questions such as “Who can provide us with relevant, expert feedback?” and “Who would find our work valuable and needed?” can help educators develop meaningful PBL activities. Students can make a difference, and educators should build projects around authentic purposes. When the work matters and is shared with an authentic audience, students are intrinsically motivated by the fact that what they are doing has value.

Challenge and Rigor
One major myth of student engagement is the idea that all learning should be fun. Yes, fun projects can engage some students, but only temporarily. In fact, challenging and rigorous assignments are often more motivating than fun and easy activities. We’ve all experienced times when we were appropriately challenged; we lost track of time, we thought more deeply, and we learned. Educators should seek to challenge students. When educators provide rigorous and authentic projects and give students voice and choice, students will accept that challenge. PBL doesn’t demand more work; it demands challenging work.

Educators who implement PBL using the following strategies will find that their students want to dig deeper and learn the material. Sometimes these projects “get out of control” in a good way and spawn new, authentic projects that teach important content skills. A skilled educator can see this deviation as an opportunity to harness student motivation and to further engage students in the learning process.

The Missing Piece of Personalization: Passion and Engagement


This post originally appeared on The Whole Child blog, an ASCD initiative to call on educators, policymakers, business leaders, families, and community members to work together on a whole child approach to education. View Original >


Personalization is quickly becoming a buzzword in education, especially in terms of blended learning and educational technology. I joined a team of educators on a panel on the same subject on the Whole Child Podcast. We unpacked what it is and what it might look like in the classroom. We talked about its challenges and benefits and collaborated to explain its implications for education. Most importantly, we talked about the critical role of relationships. When you break down personalization, most of us would agree that there are great aspects. Take a look at this chart.

I think one of the most overlooked pieces for personalization currently is that the learner “connects learning with interests, talents, passions, and aspirations.” Those who know personalization believe it is a critical component, but in the implementation it can be lost or “put on the back burner.” There are couple reasons for this.

First, the language is key. Here the learner is in complete control, and it almost seems as if a teacher is not part of the picture. In fact, a teacher is still integral to personalization, not only in helping provide scaffolding and instruction, but most importantly the engagement. A pitfall is to look at this language around personalization and engagement to a point where teachers have no role in it. In fact, student engagement—whether in a model of personalization, differentiation, or individualization—is arguably the most important factor. If you ask teachers what their biggest concerns are for the classroom and education, student engagement is at or near the top of the list. We need to remember that this is still true in personalization. Relationships and the creation of engagement still remain a critical component of personalization.

Secondly, there is a danger with regard to personalization and technology. Much of personalization is done through blended or online learning. I, myself, am a big advocate for online learning. However I have major caveats and critiques. I have seen digital courses where students still receive the “sit and get” instruction, where they is no choice in what they learn or how they show their learning. The digital curriculum may have amazing tools, such as videos, games and more; but the model of learning is still grounded in traditional instruction. Yes, students may have control over time, place, and pace, but often the engaged tenet is not truly manifested in this model of personalization.

As we move forward with personalization, we need to make sure not to forget student engagement and its implications for truly personalizing learning, where student passion and interest are not only allowed, but a critical component of the model.

Personalized Learning Starts with Personal Relationships


This post originally appeared on The Whole Child blog, an ASCD initiative to call on educators, policymakers, business leaders, families, and community members to work together on a whole child approach to education. View Original >



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How do we help each student succeed? One promising way is to personalize learning and put each student at the center of her learning experience. Broader than individualized or differentiated instruction, personalized learning is driven by the learner. Ensuring personalized learning for all students requires a shift in thinking about long-standing education practices, systems, and policies, as well as significant changes in the tools and resources. To address students’ abilities, interests, styles, and performance, schools need to rethink curricula, instruction, and technology tools to support giving learners choices and schools flexibility.

In our last episode of the Whole Child Podcast, we discussed personalized learning in the 21st century global marketplace with professor Yong Zhao, author of the ASCD book Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization. In this episode, we take a look at personalizing learning on the ground and in schools and the importance of relationships in activating students to take charge of their learning. You’ll hear from

Jennifer Eldredge, a Spanish teacher at Oconomowoc High School whose district is a member of the regional Cooperative Educational Service Agency #1, which is committed to establishing personalized learning as the prevailing approach in southeastern Wisconsin.
Andrew Miller, former classroom and online teacher and current educational consultant, ASCD Faculty member, National Faculty member at the Buck Institute for Education, and regular ASCD and Edutopia blogger.
Beth Sanders, a high school social studies teacher at Tarrant High School in Alabama who is also the cofounder and codirector of Youth Converts Culture and was named an Apple Distinguished Educator Class of 2013 and 2013 Teacher of the Year for Tarrant City Schools.

Authenticity to Support Common Core Instruction and Assessment


This post originally appeared on The Whole Child blog, an ASCD initiative to call on educators, policymakers, business leaders, families, and community members to work together on a whole child approach to education. View Original >


How do we support our students in being career and college ready? This is not a new question, and educators continually struggle with what that even means. We leverage rigor and relevance as keys to prepare students for the postK–12 world, but what does that look like? What are some practical ways to promote rigor and relevance and target specific Common Core State Standards? One key method, which is not new, is authenticity. Teachers can support students in meeting the Common Core by creating more authentic reading and writing tasks. Here are some ideas to consider as you target specific Common Core standards in instruction and assessment.

Authentic Written Products
The Common Core does not dictate the vehicle with which students can show their writing skills. No matter what specific writing strand of the Common Core you are targeting (argumentative, narrative, or informative), consider having students create assessments and products that mirror work from the real world. Letters, blogs, podcast scripts, infographics, press releases, guides, and the like can provide not only voice and choice to students, but create engagement to do relevant and meaningful work. Pick appropriate authentic products that can align to specific standards so that students can write authentically.

Authentic Reading of Primary Sources
Create contexts for students to read primary and not secondary sources. Not only does the Common Core call for the ability to cite a variety of sources and read a variety of texts, but primary sources can help provide relevance in the classroom, as they are more authentic. Reading and scaffolding authentic texts can help create reading engagement in the classroom.

Authentic Roles
Students of all ages like to take on roles that real people do in real life. Now, I am not saying they are actually performing these roles (pretend can be good, too), but sometimes you can create a space to practice. Students can be architects and use math skills to create effective bridges, and they can be poets to tell the stories of homeless youth in the community.

Authentic Collaboration
The Common Core has a speaking and listening standard at every grade level that calls for “collaborative discussions.” This is a great opportunity to have students tackle real-world challenges and problems in teams and build collaborative skills. We know collaboration is a valuable skill, and we can make this collaboration more authentic through real-world scenarios, challenges, and problems.

As you continue to support students in meeting the Common Core standards, consider authenticity as a model to create a space where relevance and rigor are at the forefront of your instruction and assessment. The Common Core is only the “what,” and we educators must use our methods of “how” to support all students. Authenticity can be one of these “hows.”

Leading PBL Schoolwide? Tips to Get Started


This post originally appeared on The Whole Child blog, an ASCD initiative to call on educators, policymakers, business leaders, families, and community members to work together on a whole child approach to education. View Original >


Many schools are making major changes in structures and professional development to make sure teachers are implementing effective project-based learning (PBL) schoolwide. I’ve been honored to be part of that journey with many schools. I have seen many different kinds of PBL schools, and with it, many kinds of PBL projects. This work has also reaffirmed the belief that the principal is one of the cornerstones to effective PBL implementation. We know this! This is not new news, but because PBL is a change in the paradigm of curriculum and instruction, it means that implementation has unique strategies and challenges as well. Here are some straightforward ways I have seen principals at PBL schools lead toward excellent PBL implementation.

Create the Buy-In
It’s easy to jump right in and start PBL trainings and professional development, but this alone will not create the momentum. Some of the best schools I have worked with spend a lot of time creating the buy-in before even starting training or professional development. I’ve seen principals organize school visits to great PBL schools as well as debrief the process. I’ve also seen principals allow teachers to read short articles of blogs at staff meetings and create inquiry questions so that staff can explore and learn what they want about PBL. This requires a “hands-off” approach by the principal to truly honor teacher questions and concerns. If considerable time is given to this buy-in process, a principal can lead as a guide to bring teachers to a PBL implementation that will work for them and their schools.

Model the PBL Process in Professional Development
Whether using the inquiry-circles method for investigating a problem practice or setting up a driving question aligned to school goals, principals can easily model some or all of the aspects of the PBL process. Principals might present a problem of practice to a team of teachers, have them investigate, and then have them present their information and solutions to other teachers and stakeholders. “Need to know” lists might live in the staff room or virtually, where all can access the list, ask questions, and provide answers. Additionally, protocols that are used for student revision can be used by teachers to receive ongoing feedback on their projects. Through modeling, principals can built trust and also help ground teachers in the PBL process.

Create PBL Projects
If you want teachers to believe you “get it,” know what it feels like to create a rigorous PBL project, and know the essential elements of design, then you must create a PBL project. Principals can show efficacy by creating, revising, and reflecting on PBL projects they design and implement. As teachers build their projects, principals should build with them and participate in the professional development and training. Principals will not only learn more about PBL but also build relationships and create a culture of revision and reflection with faculty and staff.

Set Clear Expectations for Projects
It’s important to start small, but this can look different from school to school. Some teachers are more ready for project-based learning than others. Some schools have structures that allow for easy collaboration and integration of subject areas. All of these factors contribute to making reasonable goals for the number of PBL projects in the first year as well as the level of integration. Set these goals with the input of teachers and be clear to all on the rationale.

Although these suggestions for leading PBL might seem basic, they are sometimes overlooked in the process or sometimes seen as not needed. I feel that as an instructional leader, it is critical for the principal leading a PBL change to model these attributes by creating meaningful buy-in, modeling the process, creating projects, and setting reasonable goals that come from experience in PBL. These are just the first steps in a long journey of growth for the PBL principal, teacher, and school.