Monday, September 11, 2017

Learner Profile is Essential for Personalized Learning

There are many definitions of personalized learning. We define personalize learning as: Placing learners at the center where multiple pathways are possible to develop essential skills, and competencies. Guiding individuals to become agents of their learning through goal setting and reflecting on the learning process. An active method where educators recognize the need for flexibility around pace, content, style, skill, background knowledge, location or some other learning dimension.  

In order for learners to be placed at the center, a learner profile must be established. For years teachers have been compiling data and information on learners to guide instruction, but how much of that information drives the learning? If we want learners to be able to have voice and choice in their learning, they have to understand how it is they learn best, their strengths and weaknesses, and how to apply their skills and interests. Here in lies the importance of a learner profile.     

Learner Profile Belongs to the Learner
A learner profile must belong to the learner and the learner must understand how to interact with it in order for it to be effective. We experimented with a few different types of learner profiles and found some things that didn’t work. It didn’t work to have pages and pages of documents for the learners to scroll through every time they reflected or set goals.  It also didn’t work to use certain terms like, access, engage, express, because it confused the learners. It needed to be more specific without being too much information. Initially, it didn’t work just to ask getting to know you questions like personality types. While an inventory of learning styles is helpful, a more thorough learner profile which allows for ongoing goal setting and reflection that pertains to the current coursework is more useful.  

After reflecting on things that didn’t work and visiting with Andrew Easton, a PL coach from Omaha, we came up with a three/four page learner profile. We will go on to explain the different pages, but the idea is that the learner can reference one page at a time, depending on the task at hand. Once again the learner profile belongs to the learner and becomes their “road map” or “play list” used to drive their learning. Page one is an interest page, page two is a learning preference page, and page three is a data collection page. A fourth page could be a learning inventory page dedicated to learning style and personality type, or this could be a section embedded in the interest page.  

Learner Interest Page
The interest page would be referred to when learners have an opportunity to connect learning to a passion. A genius hour,  a 20% or capstone project, time in a maker space to create something, a product for a mentorship or internship opportunity, or any choice in project that could be connected to a learner’s interest. Learners continuously visit their interest page when inspired or interested in new topics. Burning questions, a new aspiration or a sudden interest in something new could all be a part of the learner interest page. Learners will feel validated and engaged in the learning process when they are able to track and refer to their interests or passions, at school and on a regular basis. We allowed for learners to answer an essential question anyway they wanted in our course. At first learners were hesitant to get started, but once we encouraged them to refer to one of their interests or passions, they were off. (See blog Personalized Learning vs Differentiation)                                                          

Learner Preference Page(How I learn)
The learner preference page would be a tracking sheet for learners to reflect on how they prefer to learn. In a personalized learning model, at times learners have voice and choice in how they access, engage or express information.  In our class we refer to these different choices as teacher seminar, direct instruction, and personal flex/independent (click on LEARNER PREFERENCE presentation link for clarification on this).  Each class could have a different link on the preference page and at the end of a class learners could make a tally next to the choice they made about their learning preference for the day, and how it worked for them. At times the teacher can go over this page with a learner during a conference and discuss what a learner knows about how he/she learns.
How are learners expected to have voice and choice if they are not made aware of their learning process? Most teachers plan very effective lessons, but the learners are not thinking about how strategic the teacher is in helping them acquire information. For example, in many traditional classrooms, a teacher first provides direct instruction, then moves into group discussions or practice and finally a learner completes a task on their own.  In a personalized learning model, the teacher not only points out the different ways learners are being presented information, but also stops to ask learners which format was most beneficial to them. At the end of a lesson or class, learners can take out their learner profile, go to their preference page and reflect on how they processed information and what was helpful.
We are aware that some learners will need more guidance with their decision making and learning preferences. There is always room to reflect and grow. Teachers can help learners monitor their choices by conferencing with them regularly. A learner who may have made a less effective choice in how to learn in one instance, could make a more strategic and fitting choice in the future.  After tracking, a learner can write general reflections for when they need direct instruction, collaborative groups, or independent flex time.  For example, a learner may note in Math they need more direct instruction, but in Language Arts class they prefer collaborative groups.  Or, when the material is difficult or new information, a learner may need direct instruction, but if the information is review or something they are comfortable with they might choose independent flex so they can work at a faster pace. This portion of the profile can evolve to be more specific as well. For example, a learner may get more specific in the method of note taking they prefer. We have all learners experience and learn Cornell notes, if they can defend another style of note taking that works better for them we allow them to use another method. Overall, a learner is thinking about and reflecting on how they learn best.

Data Collection Page
The data collection page would be an overall picture of academic progress. Again, each course could have a link for a document specific to the course standards.  In our English Class, learners can link to a unit overview. The link leads to a document where learners set goals for each unit (based on standards) and reflect on them upon completion of the unit. The data collection page specific to English Class also had learners reflecting on their reading and writing process, the strategies they used to analyze, future applications of skills, and growth as a learner. This page would be a great reference for advisory, homeroom teachers, or parents to discuss how a learner is doing in school. Again, each teacher could design a data collection page that best suits their course, yet all the information is connected and easily accessible to learners without there being too much information on one document, where one finds himself/herself scrolling forever and a day.    

The Importance of Reflection

Our job as educators is to teach kids how to learn. When learners reflect each day not only on what they learn, but how they learn, they can begin to have more ownership in their learning process. Reflection is not something that happens naturally for all learners, we need to model, practice, and provide feedback for reflection. This model of a learner profile allows for ongoing reflection and learner ownership of their learning.   

Talking to your learner about school!

Another school year is in full swing and the energy and excitement we feel around growing personalized learning is immense. We had some opportunities over the summer to learn from other incredible people in education blazing the trails of personalized learning.

We have been inspired by the national platform of powerful leader in education. People such as Tim Brown, Cassandra Erkens, Mike Mattos, and Dr. Anthony Muhammad as well as many others. Their voices have helped us grow and feel validated in this work. 

We have been energized and impressed by fellow educators in other states. Our new friends from Westside 66 in Omaha, Nebraska, Andrew Easton, Kristin Hogan, James Sides, Katie Sindt, and Mark Weichel have been instrumental in supporting teachers personalizing. They are highly knowledgeable individuals leading at the local level to expand personalized learning and prioritizing what is best for our kids in education! 
And here at home in Minnesota, Eastern Carver County schools are leading the charge with district wide personalized learning and standards based grading.  Presenting at their  personalized learning summit was a highlight of our summer.  

Each training, conference, networking meeting, observation/visit have been influential in shaping how we hope to mentor others in our new coaching/teaching role this school year.

Even with all of these great opportunities, some of the most meaningful things we have learned have come out of everyday conversations and interactions with a neighbor, a friend, a stranger in line at the store or at the park. Speaking with people about their current reality and experience within the education system has broadened our perspective and fed our motivation. Which is how this blog came to be.

One recent conversation with a friend only strengthened our why. Her kids were starting their school year and she was expressing how difficult it is to engage in conversations with her oldest child around her learning. She described homework "fights" and the loathsome feelings she has whenever she has to figure out what is going on in her child's education and how she can help. She wants to play an active role in her children's learning, but considering how brought her stress. I found myself feeling frustrated for her. Frustrated that she has to have homework battles with her 12 year old. Frustrated that talking about school, the place where her children spend most of their time in these formative years, gives her such distress. She felt some sense of relief when the principal at the school sent a letter asking parents to be less "helicopter" and allow their children to have more independence. The letter suggested that it's okay for kids to "fail". This friend then said, "So how do I talk to my kid about school?"

The foundation of this work is to empower individuals to take charge of their learning. For each individual to understand not only WHAT they are interested in learning, but HOW they learn. Enter the "learner profile". No, we aren't asking families to keep a file on how each child learns. What we're suggesting is when engaging with a child about school consider the elements of a learner profile. Instead of asking them to describe what their homework is for the evening, ask questions that get at a better understanding of THEIR learning process. Our working definition of a learner profile is as follows:

Learner Profile

Belongs to the learner.

  • who they are as a whole
  • express their aspirations and passions
  • Used to set goals, reflect on learning and track learning preferences
Transformative “Road Map” or “Play List” used design learning.

I told my friend to start asking her child questions that would help the child start to identify who she is as a learner and how she navigates her path. Having these little interactions and conversations be it in the car at pick up or clearing dishes after dinner is motivating and empowering (see blog "The Learner's Voice"). I suggested she start asking questions that would help her daughter think about learning beyond the math worksheet she brought home.  We would not ask these questions all at once, just the ones that seem appropriate to the task at hand. 

Here are some questions that go beyond a homework sheet:

What are some things you really like (personal passions)?
What hopes and aspirations do you have for the future?
Think about a personal goal you want to strive for in school/life? How will you meet your goal?
Are there some assignments or projects where you can fit your passions into your work? 

How do you like to get information?
Do you like when the teacher talks directly to the class?
Do you like to work with a partner or group?
Do you like to be given a task and work completely independently?
Do you like to have some one on one conference time with a teacher? A peer? 
Do you like to listen to a podcast or audio file?
Do you like to see a graphic or poster of content to learn?
Do you like to read plain text to learn a new concept?
Where do you sit in class?

"Life" data:
How much sleep do you think you need a night?
How much sleep are you getting?
Are you late to school?
How does being late impact your learning?
Are you on pace in your classes? 
If so why?
If not, where are you and how can I help you get back on pace?
What kinds of snacks/lunches help you have energy at school?
What are you eating for snack/lunch? Do you feel good and energetic after you eat at school?

Learning Strategies: 
What do you do when you are feeling frustrated or stuck?
How do you take notes? 
How do you document or keep track of what you have read (notes, post-its, book marks, don't have any...find some)?
How comfortable are you asking questions from the teacher? From peers?
How do you check for understanding of new material? 
How do you stay organized? How do you know what you need to work on?
How much effort are you putting in?  
How can your parents or other mentors support you in your learning?

We felt it might be helpful for other parents/teachers to consider how to begin entrusting a child/teen/young adult to approach their learning this new school year by taking a less typical approach to what they ask their kids about school. Even if it seems one is too young to really understand why it's important to think about these things, or if one seems too immature to understand the impact of personal reflection, it is still beneficial to engage her/him. Doing so can only strengthen learning. Having conversations about HOW one learns and setting goals around one's passions and aspirations will allow her/him to be much more prepared to "take the reins" when they are given more freedom/voice and choice in their learning. 

Once they get a taste of how incredible it is to have a say in their learning, their engagement in their education becomes will be much more considerable. In turn, they see more meaning and purpose in their schooling. Anyone can start asking any of these questions to a learner in order to trigger her/him to embrace and desire the opportunity to be at the center of creating learning pathways. Yes, maybe at first that homework sheet still does get completed. However, in time if you help your learner begin to take ownership beyond that worksheet, we believe those homework battles will be a thing of the past.


Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Learner's Voice

At the end of the 2016-2017 school year, we had our learners reflect on the course overall.  We asked them to respond to five questions. This blog is meant to speak their truth, not ours. Narrowing down the type of responses to include was difficult. What made us feel better in this process was knowing what we chose to include was echoed by several other learner responses.  

1. What do you understand personalized learning to be?
Personalized learning is having a standard to meet and choosing how you meet it based on what suits you and helps you grow best.

To me, personalized learning is adapting how you learn the material to be able to express your knowledge in a unique manner.

Allowing choice in how a subject is taught and assessed to let individuals create the most effective plan for themselves.

The ability to decide and make choices for yourself in what you want to learn and grow while learning.

Personalized learning is adapting the way information is given and taken in order to fit a specific person's need.

YOU get to choose how YOU want to learn a concept/standard.

I understand this by growing as a learner, knowing my weaknesses and strong suit and deciding for myself how I want to meet the standard.

A style of teaching that is customized to be the most effective for every student.

More choices so you can optimize your learning.

2. What has been your experience with personalized learning this year in Pre-AP English 9? How have you grown as a learner?

I have had a very good experience with personalized learning. I have become a much better writer and discovered a love for screenwriting after our outside writing project.

I have done a lot more of my own thing and tried to blend my interests outside of school with school assignments. I think I’ve learned some new writing styles in the process and sort of developed ways to discuss topics I’m truly interested in (in an academic sense).
I have become more self-motivated and I push myself farther than I did before.

Personalized learning has been positive for me because it has given me choice over how I want to learn and has pushed me out of my comfort zone steadily. Also, with writing it made me more passionate because I write more when I care about the topic I’m writing about.

I have grown and it has taught me how to articulate my needs as a learner.

I had an amazing experience this year. I was able to discover new ways to learn and to express myself through my schoolwork.

I have enjoyed personalized learning because overall it got me out of my comfort zone and made me think a lot about what I was learning.

I liked it a lot because there was minimal graded assessments so I could solely focus on the learning. This allowed me to write deeper and better papers than I ever have.

I learned how to ask questions and I have tools to help me continue to grow.

My ability to make independent choices has grown significantly.

I have been able to choose freely on how I want to learn. It has been fun to try different things to see which one I like best. I grew as a learner by trying new ways of learning.

I really liked it! I felt as if I didn’t understand something, I could participate in a lecture, or if I knew it pretty well, I could practice it on my own. I have grown as a learner because now I know how I learn best.

3. What benefits do you see with personalized learning?

It allows ALL learners the ability to demonstrate their knowledge in ways other than a test.

Be more self-directed and it prepares you for life.

Personalized learning allows students to focus more on topics they really care about. It connects structure to free-lance thinking.

I believe personalized learning helps EVERYONE!
I think for the learner, personalized learning allows for creative freedom, and the ability to adapt the ways you learn.

I see more kids discovering their abilities and being more creative.

There is CHOICE! The schedule is flexible and I can move as fast as I want with enough content for me to burn through. Also, it’s easy to learn more about what my classmates think and get new perspectives with options for discussion.

I think it’s important to be able to learn in a different way when you did not get it the first way.

Freedom. I feel proud and confident in my work. Less stressful atmosphere.

I think it reaches out to those kids who feel hopeless because they are smart, but can’t show their true potential.

The benefits I see are students being able to learn and work how they like to and what works best and still meet the standard. I think students don’t work as hard when they are told to do something in a certain way.

4. What drawbacks are there with personalized learning?

There aren’t many drawbacks but one could be students doing the same thing over and over because that’s what works best for them but then they aren’t trying new things.

I think that because I am used to memorizing facts, it can be hard at first to adjust.

Learners who aren’t focused can easily fall back because they don’t have the initiative to do work for themselves.

The people with a fixed mindset just see it as more work.

To be honest, no. Personalized learning I think is something more teachers should use.

If a student isn’t self-motivated then getting them in the groove of learning for yourself, not a grade is harder.

People may abuse the system and use their time poorly.

Some people don’t know how to work well when given more freedom. They’re used to constant directions.

5. Any other thoughts on the course?

The answers to this question were minimal.  However, a couple responses brought us to tears. We are including them because they show how personalized learning goes beyond academics. It gives those who feel isolated a place to feel included, those who feel lonely a place to feel connected and those who see themselves as failures a place to find success. For the few responses we share here we will provide a bit of context as to the voice the words belong to.

Consider a young Somali, Muslim youth who was failing across the board and only had a small group of learners he could identify with in order to make social connections.  Even in this course, where things are personalized, he had to work very hard to earn credit.  He often didn't use his time well and had to reflect on better choices. He also, took advantage of the choices he had. There were behavior issues with him at school in all classes but this one.  Often he found himself in the office and “in trouble”. He was able to pass this course and answered, “It was a very good year. One of the best most enjoyable/learning class that I have ever taken.”

Shift perspective to a new to Edina Public Schools learner who had a complicated home life with a lot of sadness and conflict. She also found herself in the office often because she would leave class and “get lost”. She chose “flight” daily and she didn’t see a way in to find any successes at school. With peers she struggled to find acceptance. She said, “Everyone here hated me and bullied me and made me cry at night. But when I came to this class I knew it would be okay.”

Finally take a highly skilled learner with a supportive and encouraging home life. This young individual has plenty of friends and continuous success in all areas of life responded, “Thank you for teaching me that HOW you learn constantly effects WHAT you learn.”

Monday, July 24, 2017

"Grading" Personalized Learning

In May, a group of high school teachers from another district came to observe our class. While they appreciated how our class was conducted, they kept coming back to the question, how do we grade the learners? This blog will outline how we assess learners’ proficiencies and report scores, in a personalized learning environment, within a traditional reporting system.  

Fortunately, our school district has already taken steps towards bridging the personalized learning approach and reporting out. Departments are unpacking the standards and identifying power standards. The power standards are the learning targets. The content becomes the vehicle to reach those standards. Thus providing a nice framework for us to plan out a curriculum map for our course.
To begin, we design formative and summative assignments around power standards for each unit (related blogs 3 pillars, the how and they why, why we stopped giving reading quizzes, learning vs doing).  

The formative work(daily learning targets or assignments) serves as daily FEEDBACK in order to determine if/when one is ready for a summative assessment. While the summative assignments or assessments serves as VERIFICATION that the standard is met. In the end we are measuring proficiency, not compliance or behavior. The marking or grade is reflective of a learner’s current proficiency (what they know and can do). The amount of time they take to reach the standard due to where they are at, doesn't count against them in an arbitrary, unfair way. As the learners strive to reach standards, they are deeply involved in the process. In turn, they take ownership, build confidence, and become more motivated.

Research shows that the likelihood of success is measured by past successes. Failure and success are not episodes, they are trajectories. Performance is shaped by what happened the last time, so our goal is to set up learners with winning streaks (Schimmer, “Grading from the Inside Out” 2016). We do this by offering different pathways in the formative work so that all learners gain confidence before they approach a summative assessment. Having multiple opportunities to get feedback and learn from mistakes, engages the learners and ensures one is learning vs doing. Research also shows using grades to punish or reward decreases motivation and damages the process of learning (Moss 2013).

Assessments can feel overwhelming to teachers. Many teachers assign a point value to every single task/assignment. Through personalization we have learned that everything one does in the learning process DOES NOT need to be marked or scored. The formative work is the practice, where learners can take risks, experiment, even fail. Formative work supports learning, and is the avenue to provide feedback. Then learners know what the next steps are to prepare for a summative. Currently, we do not use a standards based reporting system, so we do give credit and points for formative work, but it is only 10% of a learner’s grade and very few formative assignments are worth points.
        This practice makes learners more aware of their “LEARNING” vs their point accumulation. In many current reporting systems, parents and learners become grade obsessed and lose sight of the learning. The results show learners seeking what will get them the most points. Many individuals attempt to complete work only for the external motivation of points rather than thinking about their learning. Again, learners don’t need a grade or score on formative work, more importantly it is used for them to gauge their understandings and plan for the next step. Eventually, leaners stop asking "how can I get an A?" and begin asking questions like, "how can I craft a more powerful thesis?" or "what can I do to be a stronger critical reader?"

Additionally, we do not take off late points or deduct credit, ever.  Doing this would be assessing one's compliance vs proficiency. We teach accountability by incorporating internally motivating strategies. Learners assess their mindsets, they reflect and they learner reflections and they set goals. When these types of punitive deductions are calculated into a final grade, the grade does not accurately reflect a learner’s proficiencies.  

For example, if a learner turns in an assignment that is beyond the suggested completion parameters, we ask them to answer the following questions:

1.) Why are you off pace in your learning?  
2.) What steps are you taking to get back on pace?   
3.)  How can I support you in getting back on pace?                                                            
We incorporate building on skills that help lead to success in any environment. Skills such as responsibility, work ethic and organization. All of these interactions and feedback are not a part of a learner’s final grade, but are an integral part of the learning process. At the end of the day, we believe in giving learners full credit for what they know, regardless of how long it took them to show it. This created an environment that was focused on learning and growth, vs points and grades.   
All summative assessments verify meeting standards. If a learner does not meet the standards, they have a chance to reassess (attempt the summative again which for our course usually involves, revising their essay/writing or project). Learners who do not meet standards are given an “I” (incomplete) or an "IP" (in progress) until they can demonstrate meeting the standard. This ensures learning for all and sets a high expectation that a standard must genuinely be met. 
Being that we do not have a standards based reporting system, we use rubrics to generate a score/grade to put into our gradebook. We were part of a committee for the Edina school system that created a scoring rubric for each power standard for English Classes, at our district level. This allows for consistency and alignment between teachers and also allows for learners to have a clear understanding of what is expected of them.  
For each summative we create a rubric that includes key parts with language specific to the standards we are addressing.  For example, learners write a persuasive essay on a character after reading Lord of the Flies or Of Mice and Men. We created a rubric for the essay that identifies the standards they need to meet when composing the essay. We copied parts of the district standards rubric that pertained to character analysis, writing arguments and providing evidence. In preparation all formative work was in regards to analyzing the characters in their chosen novels.  
Learners used the rubrics in the drafting process to make sure they understood what would be assessed. We looked at how a learner did against the rubric and generated a grade to put into the gradebook. This is how we broke it down:
If a learner "exceeded the standards" in two or more areas and "met" all other standards she earned an “A”.
If a learner "exceeded one standard" and "met" the rest she earned a “B”.
If a learner "met all the standards" she earned a “C”.    
If a learner was "below/approaching the standard" she needed to continue working toward "meeting" the standard.                                                                                                                       Of course reporting will vary some. There is still room for subjectivity depending on teacher discretion. There is no perfect system but we found this way the best way for us to fit standard based grading into a percentage/letter grading system. Identifying the standards and having a rubric provides clarity to individuals. In turn they can partake in creating individual pathways to meet the standards. For the persuasive essay learners read different books, but were still assessed on the same standards.   
   Rubric ex.png  Here is another example of a rubric from our Shakespeare Unit...shakespeare rubic pic.png   
Every step of the way the learners are involved in the process.  It begins with them setting goals for meeting the standards and knowing exactly what is expected of them.  Rubrics are shared with learners so they reflect on their proficiencies and determine where to go. At times they also help draft summative rubrics.  One instance where individuals draft their own rubric in our course is with a choice writing piece. Once a learner chooses a choice piece to write, they craft a rubric that outlines the requirements they will meet. Each learner rubric is unique to their chosen writing genre.  
Having learners create the rubric has many benefits. First, they are given choices on what they want to focus on as a writer. Second, they investigate what is essential and appropriate for their choice of writing genre.  Third, they are aware of the expectations and are more motivated to meet the learning targets. As teachers, we conference with the learners to help guide them in drafting rubrics. We make sure they are challenging themselves and are accurate in comprehending and meeting the learning targets.
 Regardless of how the rubric was created, learners always reflect and self-score before we offer our "final" assessment. In the end, learners are given a grade based on how proficiency. Because personalized learning focuses on proficiency over letter grades/points, individuals are immersed in a culture that promotes learning.
          Recently a fellow colleague asked, "How do you know a kid is ready for 10th grade?" The response was: "We don't think in those terms anymore. We ask, what skills and competencies does this learner now have, as they approach another school year?" 

Final thoughts to consider:
~How much of grading reflects the speed of learning?
~How much a learner knows and how hard they worked are two different things.
~Punitive grading is more of an issue of inaccuracy vs accountability.
~How can one set up winning streaks for learners to give them confidence and motivation?

Highly recommended resource:
-Grading from the Inside Out,Bringing Accuracy to Student Grading, by Tom Schimmer

Friday, May 26, 2017

Collaboration in Personlized Learning

If we ask ourselves what we want learners to be able to do when they leave our classrooms, what would be on the list?  Ideally, we strive to develop learners to be innovative and critical thinkers, competent in reading, writing and technology skills, and being able to communicate effectively with others.  Personalized learning can take on many forms to build on these skills, but it is not just learners working in isolation.  Although we allow for voice and choice the majority of the time, we still take advantage of the collective environment and foster collaboration.  We are intentional with learners practicing and reflecting on how they communicate with others.  For some learners this means we are pushing them out of their comfort zones.  Great teachable moments always arise when learners are out of their comfort zones.     
tracking speaking.jpg
Tracking Sheet: Offers an Idea, Asks a Question, Refers to Text...
One of the ways learners collaborate and practice communication skills is through different discussions protocols to broaden their perspectives and deepen their understandings.   In our “Identity Unit” learners meet the following standard [ Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, including those by and about Minnesota American Indians, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively].   Learners use a tracking sheet to assess and monitor how they are contributing to a conversation. Just like in anything we do in our class, learners reflect on the collaboration experiences to grow as learners. Learners participate in a series of discussions before having a fishbowl paidia to demonstrate meeting the standard.  In the “Snowball” discussion learners begin to analyze a topic in groups of 2, then move into groups of 4, and end in groups of 8.  As the groups expand in numbers, learners go further into analysis.  We strategically groups learners using colored cards, that included shapes, so each round it was seamless to move into new groups (they start by finding the person who has the same number and color, then it is all the same color forming groups of 4, finally they gather with all the same shapes and create groups of 8). Learners also participated in rotating stations, where they rotated to different discussion prompt stations and added on to what the groups before them had discussed and noted.  Finally, learners participated in fishbowl paideias where one group was in the middle and all other classmates were surrounding them in a circle and observing their discussion. (for more discussion protocol ideas see blog “Letting Go”)
Used For Snowball Groupings
Rotating Stations Example

Groups Of Two in Snowball
Groups of Three and Four in Snowball
Group so eight for Snowball

At the end of each class, learners reflected on each discussion formats and how effective they were in each setting.  This reflection allows them to be more aware of what types of study groups to seek out in the future.  Of course, each learner had different preferences and it was interesting to read their rationales for why some preferred smaller groups and others enjoyed the larger groups.  A few learners even voiced concern over not having a “choice” to participate in the fishbowl.  Learners are used to being able to choose how they learn, this was a great teachable moment about “comfort zones”.  We reminded learners that too often we want to stick with what we are used to but the times we stretch ourselves out of our comfort zones, is usually where we grow the most.   
dicussion reflection.png
Our role as teachers has changed to guide on the side, but as guides we still challenge learners to try new things, collaborate with others, and reflect on each learning experience.  We have found that because have so many opportunities for voice and choice in their learning, there is more overall by in with the class.  The times they are not allowed a choice, they are still engaged and willing to try new things.