Sunday, August 25, 2019

Return on Instruction (ROI) Revisited

The pursuit to improve never ends and nor should it. With all of the disruption we see as a result of the 4th Industrial Revolution, changes to how we educate kids have to be considered. The result has been districts, schools, and educators making a great deal of investment in an array of ideas, strategies, and solutions with the goal of improving learning for all kids. Obviously, this makes sense, and I am all for it. However, caution must be exerted when there is an urge to purchase the next “silver bullet” or embrace ideas that sound great on the surface but have little to show in terms of evidence of improvement at scale. Results, both qualitative and quantitative, matter, and this is something that everyone should be mindful of.

Over the years, I have not shied away from discussing the need to align ideas and strategies to research as well as evidence that shows in some way that there is an improvement in student outcomes. Seems fair and reasonable, right? You would think so as the teacher and principal in me know full well that results matter, especially when dealing with increased mandates, initiative overload, limited time, and lack of money. Herein lies why the allure of the “next best thing” is so compelling, and everyone is so quick to jump on the bandwagon. Just because something sounds or looks good doesn’t mean that it is, plain and simple. This applies to what is seen on social media, in marketing assets, and at conferences. Being a critical consumer is more important than ever. I’d even go as far as to say that it is our duty, something I elaborate greatly on in Digital Leadership

However, it is essential to go beyond just the consumption aspect as outlined above and be just as critical during the implementation phase. A sound strategic plan, not online focus, on where you want to go and how you will get there, but also a set of measures for success and a determination of how things went. A few years back I tackled this through strictly a technology lens and brought forward the concept of a Return on Instruction (ROI); borrowing from the term “return on investment” synonymous with virtually every profession.  In retrospect, this was shortsighted and not encompassing of all the many competing and complementing elements that are pursued simultaneously. Below is my evolved take:
 "When investing in technology, programs, professional development, and innovative ideas, there needs to be a Return on Instruction (ROI) that results in evidence of improved student learning outcomes." 
If you take a look at my original post, you will see that evidence comes in many forms, not just data. The bottom line is why make an investment to improve teaching, learning, and leadership but have nothing to show for it? That would prove to be quite frustrating, to say the least. To be clear, I am not talking about fluffy ideas or opinions, but actually substantive changes to practice that lead to real change. So how can you determine an ROI? Some guiding questions that might help are below:

  • How have instructional design and pedagogy changed?
  • How has the scaffolding of both questions and tasks changed?
  • How have student work and products changed?
  • How has assessment changed?
  • How has feedback changed?
  • How has the use of data changed?
  • How has the learning culture changed?
  • How has leadership changed?
  • How has meeting the needs of students who need specialized supports changed?
  • How has professional learning changed? 

The questions above will be answered differently as each district, school, and educator is unique as well as the respective culture. The key is to think broadly about financial and time investments to determine if in fact, they are paying off. Both are important. Another aspect to consider is realism. In the end, results matter.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Buncee and Immersive Reader: A Winning Combination for Assistive Learning

I am a huge fan of Buncee. The following is a guest post by Rachelle Dene Poth (@Rdene915), Spanish and STEAM Teacher at Riverview High School in PA.

For several years, Buncee has been one of my favorite creation tools; both for personal use and for classroom instruction. While there are many digital tools to choose from when it comes to teaching and having our students create, Buncee’s versatility and ease-of-use make it a go-to tool for all creative needs. Now, Buncee’s recent integration with Microsoft’s Immersive Reader makes the platform even more accessible for students of diverse ages, backgrounds, and abilities to learn 21st-Century Skills and express themselves. What my students love the most is that Buncee offers something for everyone, and I love that they love it.

Always keeping a finger on the pulse of their community’s needs, the Buncee team consistently listens to their community and refines the platform based on this! Their integration with Immersive Reader is a perfect example of this.

Immersive Reader: It’s About Opportunities For ALL Students 

This summer, Buncee integrated with Microsoft’s Immersive Reader, increasing accessibility for students and offering a robust environment to build literacy skills. Immersive Reader is a full-screen accessibility tool, supporting the readability of text in Buncees for language learners and their families and students with dyslexia or visual impairments. Any text added into a Buncee can be translated and read aloud in over 60 languages.

There are many ways Immersive Reader can enhance learning opportunities for students. It can help to build their confidence and create an inclusive classroom environment. Educators can use this integration to create lessons, make interactive flashcards for students, and communicate with families. Inclusive learning and providing for students and families from different backgrounds is something that the Buncee and the Microsoft team are definitely passionate about, making this integration a natural fit.

Imagine the possibilities for reaching students and their families of non-native English speaking homes, or supporting students who are just learning to read. The use of Immersive Reader in Buncee enables students to do more than just create multimedia content, it helps them improve reading and language learning skills as they engage with the content in authentic and meaningful ways. 

How Does Immersive Reader Work in Buncee? 

There are several ways to help students build their skills through the different options available within Buncee and using Immersive Reader. Getting started with Immersive Reader in Buncee is easy.

By clicking on the Immersive Reader icon when viewing a Buncee, a personalized reading and learning experience for students appears. Immersive Reader accesses the text in the Buncee, offering a multitude of options. Families can access these features at home as well, without having to log into or need any specific account. 

Navigating the Immersive Reader Functionality In Buncee

I decided to create a Buncee using some of the new 3D objects and also explore the options available through Immersive Reader. For first time users, it is easy to figure out how to adjust the settings. 

First, I clicked on the speaker symbol at the bottom to listen to the text read aloud. Students could use this as a way to practice their own pronunciation, especially when using it for language learning, by repeating after the speaker. Students can also build listening comprehension skills by focusing on written words and making connections with the audio. 


By clicking on text preferences, I can choose the text size, increase spacing, and select from three choices in font style. These are great options to help with readability for students. There are also 21 color choices for the background on the screen. I find this to be very useful, especially as someone who can be sensitive to certain colors when reading. I've also had students experience difficulty with reading on certain colored backgrounds, so this is a definite plus. 

The grammar options enable you to break words up by syllables and also color code the different parts of speech. Being able to use the color codes to help with the identification of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs will help students to build their grammar skills. These labels can be turned on or off, which means that families can work with their children and use it as a teaching tool for review. 

Just to experiment, I turned everything off except for the verbs. Displayed on the screen were the two verbs in the sentence both highlighted in red. I then selected a different color for each part of speech, I chose purple to identify nouns and green for the adjectives. I was amazed at how quickly this could be set up and the possibilities for helping students with reading comprehension and language skills. Using this as a way to further engage students with identifying parts of speech and making the visual connection is another option for more interactive learning.

Under reading preferences, you can focus on one line or on the entire text.

When you focus on a line, it closes the screen down to that one specific sentence, which you can also make narrower or thicker depending on your choice. 

There are more than 60 languages available for translation. I decided to try French first, and when I clicked on a word, it showed me the word in French and in English. I also explored other languages, including Spanish and was impressed with how much it offered to reinforce the content and to provide a more personalized learning experience for students. There is also a picture dictionary to visually reinforce vocabulary acquisition. You can choose the voice and speed of reading, so it provides a great way to reinforce speaking skills as well as listening, reading and writing. 

In his book, Digital Leadership, Eric Sheninger talks about the critical competencies needed by learners for success in today’s world. These competencies are in alignment with the ISTE standards for students and teachers and can be addressed through the use of Buncee. Now with the Immersive Reader integration, the possibilities to address these standards are open to all learners. Beyond the potential for creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication, students using Buncee can build skills in digital media literacy, entrepreneurship, technological proficiency, and digital citizenship. Students have the opportunity to use technology as a tool for solving real-world problems and making real-world connections. We have to look beyond simply using digital tools to engage students in learning and instead, empower them through opportunities to apply what they have learned in unique ways. 

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Learning and Reflecting with Video

I remember like it was yesterday when I began blogging back in 2009. To think that I would still be writing a post a week many years later is a vast understatement, coming from someone who had every excuse not to start in the first place. Trust when I say that it’s a struggle these days to either come up with new ideas or to add a unique angle to what has already been written. If it’s important to you, then you’ll find a way. If not, then you will make an excuse. I am by no means a great writer, but I’d like to think that this is only one driving force that keeps me writing. If you were to ask me why I really write, my response would be to reflect and learn openly.

Part of my evolution has been to explore new pathways to reach my professional goals while attempting to give something back in return to educators. In my quest to practice what I preach and grow, I have begun to utilize video as a means to articulate ideas, share my learning, and openly reflect. When you think about the potential video has to articulate a message, it makes sense to harness its power. YouTube is now the world’s second-largest search engine, and a one-minute video equates to almost 1.8 million words per minute. No wonder more and more educators have begun to use this medium to connect with other people.

Not only has it pushed me outside my comfort zone, but I can now go into more depth on the topics I am passionate about.  The result has been the creation of a vlog (video blog) in the form of a YouTube Channel, which you can access HERE. As I am always looking for feedback, I hope you will take a look and let me know what you think. My vlog is nothing fancy. In order to preserve the essence of learning and reflecting, I record a live, unrehearsed video using Periscope about once every two weeks.  I like using this tool because it syncs with and simultaneously broadcasts across Twitter.

Since I am human many finished products have me babbling, tripping over my own words, and at times losing my train of thought. With learning not being a perfect science and reflecting a very personal experience, I want my videos to be as realistic as possible. I begin with Periscope, a live streaming app. Once the live video on Periscope ends it archives on my phone. From here I upload it to both IGTV (Instagram TV) and YouTube. Why all three you ask? Different people prefer different mediums when it comes to consumption and engagement. One of my hopes is that my video musings might be able to help out other educators as they work through ideas, strategies, or even their reflections in their preferred space. Choice matters for both kids and adults.

In the classroom, or even outside of it, video is one of the most powerful learning tools there is. Educators can utilize tools such as Edpuzzle and Playposit where pre-selected videos are inserted for students to not only watch but also answer questions along the way. The days of passive viewing while taking up valuable instructional time can now be a thing of the past. What I love about all of these tools is the ability of teachers to insert questions that can empower learners to think and apply their thinking at various levels of knowledge taxonomy. In the case of Edpuzzle and Playposit, the responses can go straight to an LMS (learning management system) such as Google Classroom or Schoology. The self-directed nature and accountability components make all of these tools fantastic elements as part of pedagogically sound blended learning strategies.

Educators can also harness video to create flipped lessons. In addition to those mentioned above, teachers can create their own videos using tools such as Educreations or Adobe Captivate. In lieu of homework, students watch these five to ten-minute mini-lessons that cover new material that would typically be covered in class. Kids can control pace (pause, re-watch) and place (where they watch). This strategy then frees up the teacher to differentiate instruction and work with students to actively apply concepts during class time.

There is a slew of other tools that kids can use not only to demonstrate but also reflect on learning. Two of my favorites are Padlet and Flipgrid. Each tool allows for the creation of a short video that is then added to either an open digital board (Padlet) or grid (Flipgrid). Think about how powerful it is to have kids solve a problem on whiteboards and then explain how they solved it by creating a short video to get both peer and teacher feedback. When it comes to reflecting, both of these tools, as well as Seesaw, can be used for students to articulate not just what they learned, but why they learned it and how what was learned will be used outside of school. Regardless of the method used, it is essential that reflection time is built into every lesson.

Whether as an adult learner or creating a culture that empowers your students, video can serve as an essential means to help you and others reach their goals. The key with any change to practice is to see the value in it and make the time to figure out ways to integrate it into what you do. In the end, it is less about the tool and all about improving outcomes.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

If It's Easy Then it Probably Isn't Learning

What is the purpose of education? To many, this might seem like a ridiculous question with the answer being quite obvious. Or is it? For this post at least, let’s go with learning. Some might equate this with the successful ability to be able to recall or memorize facts and information. The casual observer might then anoint anyone who is able to do this effectively as smart or intelligent. Perhaps he or she is. Is being able to ace a standardized test an accurate indication of what someone knows, can do or both? My opinion on this is no.

For each person, there is a particular path to acquire, apply, and construct new knowledge.  It is much more challenging to accomplish this as some might think, and the journey is often convoluted. The fact remains that learning is anything but linear. It is more about the process than it is getting to a particular destination. Herein lies what I really want to discuss.  When you think about the greatest minds in our society, perception is rarely reality. If you take a close look and peel away the layers, you will see a path fraught with challenges, frustration, and failure. The same can be said about any person who actively solves problems on a day-to-day basis, such as carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and auto mechanics. What do they all have in common? Each and everyone has been able to utilize divergent thinking to apply what he or she knows and solve problems.  

Regardless of where a student is at in their learning, it is incumbent to challenge him or her through relevant experiences. The Rigor Relevance Framework is a great tool that can provide teachers and administrators with the context to create and evaluate both questions and tasks that empower both thinking and application while fostering relationships in the process. So, what does this look like?  One of my favorite images that illustrate what the process should look like is the learning pit.  Take a look at the image below to see what I mean.

The questions throughout the journey are key, in my opinion.  If learning is not rigorous and relevant, then students can most likely jump right over the pit. That’s what I mean when I say if it is easy, then it probably isn’t learning. What this ultimately equates to are questions and tasks that don’t challenge kids to think and apply what they are learning across multiple disciplines or to solve either real-world predictable to unpredictable problems.  When all of these elements are part of a lesson or project, what results is the development of cognitive flexibility in students.  

Nothing comes easy in life. There is no better way to teach this life-long lesson than getting kids into the learning pit and experience the RRR (rigor, relevance, relationship) dip where they come out more confident and capable.