Empower Student Voice through Collaboration and Communication

When my son was a 9th grader, he was on a team with a student who struggled with completing tasks. After a week, my son shared the team’s frustrations, as they felt helpless to convince the student to move past excuses and make attempts at the work. Fortunately, the teaching staff trained students on a 4-step process for how to address internal team problems.

Because I was aware of this, I advised my son: “Follow the process. The teacher will not step in until you start the process.” My son met with the student 1-on-1, twice, per the process’ first step. They devised a solution that got the student working, and identified what the teammates could do to be supportive.

Collaboration and communication skills are important tools that help students use their voice to navigate their education. This form of differentiation provides active experiences during their school time with teachers, and helps them hone skills for successful navigation of the world outside of school, including college, technical training, careers, and the global community. Students do not develop these skills to a high level without direct teaching, coaching, and reflection on the various practices. The adults in their lives, especially teachers and administrators, have the extensive experiences and practice of collaboration and communication skills. As mentors, teachers can differentiate through a variety of experiences, where students can learn, practice, and master these important skills.

Establish a learner-centric culture through Norms
What are the guiding norms that staff and students practice so that everyone feels supported during activities? Students buy-in is likely when they craft the norms. Otherwise, the “real” norms go underground where only the students know the rules. An example of a common unspoken norm is to not volunteer answers when a teacher asks a question, because it’s likely the teacher will answer the question if given a few seconds.

Official norms are behaviors that govern collaboration and communication by students and staff. Learners are empowered to help peers self-correct behaviors that support the work, and reduce issues of misunderstandings and lack of effort, as exemplified in my son’s experience. One approach to creating norms are:

  1. Class discuss the behaviors that makes for a positive culture as found on teams or community groups.
  2. Alone and/or in pairs, students generate a list of 3-5 behaviors that support collaboration and communication.
  3. In teams, share the ideas and craft a joint list of the top 2-3 behaviors.
  4. Teams report out their list, and clarify meaning based on peer questions. Teacher helps revise norms into positive behavioral descriptors.
  5. Students vote on the 4-7 norms.
  6. Students and teacher sign the final norms chart, giving their consent.

Once completed, the teacher and students reflect on the norms at least once a week as a formal practice. Informally, the teacher uses the norms to coach students on making better choices when problems arise. Students are encouraged to speak for themselves and others based on the norms.

Use a variety of teams to address tasks
Based on in-classroom interviews, students value the timely support they give and receive to their peers in teams. From a differentiation perspective, this eliminates the “waiting game” where work halts as students wait for the teacher to arrive to jumpstart their efforts with “the answers.” Instead, students learn to find answers and solutions from within their team. Student voice is valued.

Team formation can be for unit-long projects to paired reflective discussions. Group by similar skill level or shared interests depending on the academic needs. Using a mix of team formations offers students experiences to practice communication and collaboration as they address content based on the focus learning outcome(s). Some group strategies include:

  • Project or Study Teams
  • Clock Partners
  • Jigsawing
  • Think-Pair-Share

Ensure that each member has a role that contributes to the learning expectations, especially when grouping by a mixture of skill levels. A student with low academic skills can still be the team leader, who must use collaboration and communication skills to guide the team to move forward in the work and work together. The Managing Editor does not have to be the best writer. The person must understand how to facilitate the team’s conversation around critiques and revisions.

Use protocols that encourage mutual learning
There are a variety of protocols that serve the dual purpose of building deeper learning of content and concepts, while also providing practice of collaboration and communication skills. Once taught, students lead the protocols, and thus their own learning. The teacher is freed-up to coach and assess student progress with the collaboration and communication skills, along with content understanding.

  1. Harkness Discussion
    Students lead a discussion about subject-related topic, while the teacher draws a graph of the flow of communication. Some areas that may be noted: who’s talking and who is silent, are comments and questions substantive, and how is air-time self-managed. Here is a quality example by Dayna Laur.
  2. Mediation Process
    This is a version of the 4-step process that my son used to help his teammate start to contribute. The process helps students to self-manage teams so that curriculum assignments get done. The time taken to train students on this process, along with establishing classroom norms, pays off in the long term with students taking care of their team.
  3. Save the Last Word for Me and Say Something Protocols
    These two reading comprehension protocols guides students through discussion of assigned readings. Students chunk the reading in 2-3 parts. The team reads the first part, follows the discussion steps, and then repeats the protocol for each part. Students practice collaboration and communication skills as they develop a substantive understanding of the readings.

Preparing for an Evolving Global Community

Students need to develop a wide-range of Global Professional Skills (GPS) to navigate social and business networks to learn and build successful careers. Collaboration and Communication skills can strengthen other important skills that students need during and after their school career.

One constant about careers and job opportunities is that they are constantly evolving. Traditional careers adapt to global needs, and new jobs grow from the innovations that continue to shrink the distance between countries across the globe. Some careers that exist today may likely look different by the time our students are ready to be employed, and some jobs may not yet exist until after students graduate. High school graduates who get years of practice with collaboration and communication skills will have the tools to greatly impact colleges and career opportunities: #GameChangerED

“Why should I care?” – Learning with a Purpose using Authentic Learning Experiences

“Why should I care?”

This is the question that educators must address, as the answers can determine the level of engagement by students for curriculum experiences. The best answers are not explanations but learning experiences that are authentic to the learners’ world beyond the classroom.

  • In Michigan, 1st and 2nd graders design and maintain a greenhouse to grow vegetables for their annual community farmers’ market.
  • In Ohio, 3rd graders lobby local government to build a public garden as a sanctuary for pollinators.
  • In Texas, middle school students plan and facilitate an edcamp  where students teach peers and adults about their passion topics.
  • In Virginia, high school students advocate for better protections against sex traffickers in the United States.

Authentic Learning Experiences (ALE) help students connect curriculum with real world meaning. That’s it, in a nutshell. There are many educators who struggle with adapting traditional practices. The ones that do make the changes or tweaks are discovering the depth and extent that learners will commit time and energy towards the authentic tasks that are either provided or are student created and directed. There is a rising number of school districts that are committed to approaches that are based on Authentic Learning Experiences, which are leading to strong examples of systemic success over time. Some examples include:

  • Lake Travis ISD, TX
  • Isle of Wight School Division, VA

Each of these school districts have made an institutional-wide commitment to authentic learning experiences that engage and empower students to learn curriculum through job-embedded, aka real world experiences. Some ALE examples include:

1. Field trips at the start of a unit so that students can do on-site research and interviews of experts and staff, such as at zoos (habitats), museums (research), and park waterways (water quality tests).
2. Publication of student work from essays to videos about community and societal topics that target a specific audience outside of school.
3. Video conference meetings with experts and professionals from a variety of fields.
4. Doing work within the context of how an identified profession does similar tasks, such as scientists, authors, engineers, business people, and issue-based non-profits.


When students experience curriculum through the ALE lens, they can make connections as to how theory looks and feels in practice. Including an authentic audience is critical to the experience. When learners prepare products and presentations for a real target audience like business owners, scientists, government officials, or community members, those experiences carry greater weight and pressure on students for producing quality than turning in work to the teacher or presenting to classmates.

Getting started on this path works best when the school shares a common language for Authentic Learning Experiences. Here are two steps that support successful implementation.

Step One: Use a proven ALE framework

While the school districts referenced above have their unique approach to providing authentic learning experiences, they share some common elements.

Levels of the ALE framework

Each of these levels ensures that authentic learning experiences are tied deeply to learning outcomes (Foundation), provides contextual connections to academics with careers (Level 1), and makes the work public to a purposeful audience (Level 2).

Foundation: Significant content is the core of the work.
The work starts with the curriculum learning expectations.

Level 1: Students apply content skills as used by related professions.
Contextual connections of content are made to real world examples for understanding and through applications

Level 2: Students address an authentic purpose for a community or client need.
Experience value of skills & concepts through purposeful and meaningful contributions. Make work public!

The foundation level is essential. However, teachers can create lessons and units that only address Level 1 and achieve the goal of authentic learning experiences. Teachers who strive for Level 2 experiences should find students giving their greatest output to the tasks and learning outcomes. Explore this in more detail in this Edutopia article: Authenticity = Lifelong Learners.

Step Two: Identify the Target Audience through the Purpose

The best authentic learning experiences has an audience in mind based on a purpose for the work. Problem Solving, Advocacy, and raising Awareness are great places to start as the focus for the learning. Once the purpose is chosen, the best audience can be found who would benefit from the students’ work.

Publication is an important element for having an authentic audience. Regardless of the focus–Problem Solving, Advocacy, or raising awareness–students need to share their findings to someone(s) beyond the school. Learn more about this idea in this Edutopia article: 4 Paths to Engaging Authentic Purpose and Audience.

Explore Additional Resources

Here are resources to support your research for starting or strengthening Authentic Learning Experiences with your students and staff. Each item listed is annotated to help inform your exploration.


Henrico 21

Library of Ideas that have been teacher tested. Supports global professional skills (GPS) such as collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.

Authentic Learning Experiences (ALE)

This repository provides a deep explanation of ALE, structures, articles, and strategies to build into your development of ALE schoolwide.

Focus Documents by Isle of Wight School Division

Explore these resources by a forward thinking district. Following these documents, staff have successfully grown a systemic approach to Deeper Learning and authentic learning experiences, which have helped students find learning meaningful and purposeful.

Video Libraries

Isle of Wight School Division: CTE Videos

These videos offer examples of authentic learning experiences as structured in the systemic work at Isle of Wight School Division in Virginia.

General ALE Playlist

Here is a playlist showing examples of ALE in different schools at different grade levels.

PBL in Action

This playlist is focused on Project Based Learning. However the examples shared reflect the concepts of authentic learning experiences.

ALE Resources List (https://tinyurl.com/ALEResourcesList)  

This is a shared document that is maintained and updated with more references and strategies to support your planning and implementation of Authentic Learning Experiences.

Making Differentiation Productive: A Planning Guide

Differentiation can be challenging and fruitful if done with planful intention. Below is a guide for bring forth more success in your work to meet the needs of ALL learners by ensuring that learning experiences have these elements or components. Post or tweet your questions or ideas to @JMcCarthyEdS

Core Steps for Planning Differentiation
  1. List the standard(s) or curriculum objective(s)
  2. For each, unpack the key concept(s) and/or skill(s) to be learned.

    What do learners need to know, understand, and/or do?
  3. How can learners practice and demonstrate growth towards the key concepts and skills?

    List artifacts and actions that develop and grow achievement of the key concepts and skills.

Where Differentiation Happens

Content: Based on the key concepts and skills, how can content be delivered, acted on, and used to show understanding.

Process: Based on the key concepts and skills, what activities and approaches can learners participate to reflect and make sense for personal growth.

Product: Based on the key concepts and skills, what are artifacts and actions (such as presentations) that learners could create and/or plan to demonstrate achievement towards mastery.

How Differentiation Happens

Readiness: For each key concept and/or skill:
  1. Identify the components that make up a concept and execution of a skill.

  2. Analyze 2-3 ways to teach and coach the components at different levels of complexity. Such as:
    1. Learners lacking major gaps in understanding
    2. Learners lacking minor gaps in understanding, yet can keep pace with the progression.
    3. Learners whose understanding exceeds the required level of understanding.
  3. Evaluate the accuracy of step 2, ie does each approach actually support development of the concept and/or skill.

  4. Create an activity or task within one of the following structures:
    1. Tiered: All students working on the same concept or skill. Learners are grouped by common gaps in understanding and those who exceed the mastery level. Similar work at a complexity level that accommodates each group of learners.
    2. Individualized – independent tasks: Each learner works on different tasks that align with their specific needs, such as gaps in understanding, or missing fundamental skills. The work is different for most students as also is the complexity level. The learning objective may be different for the learners, but the targets are building blocks to common overarching objective(s).
    3. Individualized – common tasks: All learners work within the same tasks. However, the tasks are made up of sub-tasks that range in targeting specific components of concepts and/or skills. Learners either choose or are assigned to specific tasks within the options. Some learners will share both the same and different tasks. Example: Think Tac Toe and Readiness Centers or Stations.

Interests: Get to know students and what they like to spend time doing.
  1. Prepare 3-4 options for learning and/or practicing the skills and/or concepts.
  2. Communicate the criteria for assessment of skills and/or concepts. Challenge learners to create the product or artifact that demonstrates the assessment.
  3. Design activities and stations that have multiple options to choose from.
  4. Enable students to complete tasks based on their personal interests.
  5. Co-design with the students the activities.
  6. Create inquiry-based learning activities and experiences.
  7. Create authentic learning experiences.

Learning Preferences: 
  1. Collect data about the various ways that learners prefer to process understanding and demonstrate skills.
  2. Provide learning experiences that incorporate a variety of learning experiences.
  3. Allow students to design artifacts or complete work based on their voice.

Student Voice: Making Learning Happen

by John McCarthy, EdS – Follow on Twitter

When it comes to learning, involving the learner is important. Reflect on how you learn best. Having a say so as to align or customize the experiences is something that most of us prefer. Why would our students feel any different. These resources below are part of a conference session about steps towards empowering student voice in the classroom. There are some simple steps to follow:

  1. Teachers give up sole control.
    Share decision-making with students. When we strive to control what others do, the results rarely meet expectations, if we want students to think and act for themselves. We don’t want robots at the end of the day. We want thinkers. And thinkers will want a say in what they do and how they do it, or they will go underground.
  2. Learners CAN rise to the occasion if given space to act
    When given free will to choose and act, students do need guidance on how to use this shared power. It’s a responsibility for the giver (teacher) and the receiver (students). Students are enculturated to sit quietly and with minimal movement. They are told what to do and when to do it. So when we give students freedom from these shackles, they either resist, wanting what has been normal and known. Or they go crazy, behaving in ways that are not as productive as we’d like.

    So, teach students how to act and think when given this responsibility. Coach them.

Learn more about Student Voice from my Supporting References listed at the bottom. Or follow and contact me on Twitter and InstagramSubscribe to my Youtube channel for new content and researched examples of best practices in learning and teaching.

  • Need to Know process (reference)
    This process gives students control of their learning by allowing them to list questions about the lesson and unit. They decide when a question is fully answered. The basic structure is similar to the K-W-L strategy, only more student-led.

  • Student-Generated Norms (reference)
    Students create the norms for how they and the teacher can support everyone in their learning. Here is an example of Norm development steps and of Norms:

  • Critique Protocols (reference)
  • Researchers
    Have students in teams collect and organize info that is normally included in a lecture about core facts. The teams then organize the information, and then share out. Teacher fills in gaps in understanding after each team has reported. 

  • Student-Designed products
    • Teacher gives criteria for evaluation. Keep guidelines to just the learning that students must demonstrate.
    • Let students propose products or performances that meet the evaluation criteria.
    • The teacher either approves the proposal or sends back students to develop a new proposal. 
    • Have 1-2 options that students can choose if they do not come up with an approved proposal within the scheduled deadline.

  • Project Based Learning & Authentic Learning Experiences
    References: onetwo
    Empower students with the voice to make a difference in the community. Authentic Learning Experiences and Project Based Learning are excellent ways to bring context to academics to students’ lives.

  • Let students determine learning focus and align objectives to their work. 
    Give students opportunities to explore their own learning, based on their interests. They can apply academic skills to ideas that they are passionate about. Here are 2 youtube playlists to give examples. Subscribe to my Youtube channel for new content and researched examples of best practices in learning and teaching.


Useful References for More Resource Ideas

Learning Supported by Digital Tools: MOCA

Using technology to support instruction continues to be a challenge that is tackled by schools and classrooms everywhere. How do we ensure that the focus is on the student learning, and not on the digital tool? One answer is to begin with the “Learning” and find the tools that support that outcome.

Learning through Technology Guide: MOCA

MOCA is a frame for identifying how learning could be supported by digital tools. Each level is valuable to the learning process. It is important for educators to be intentional about what level is the best need for student achievement at any given time. It is also necessary to review and reflect on practice for ensuring that students experience all levels, especially Collaborative Learning and Authentic Learning.

  • Managed Learning
  • Orchestrated Learning
  • Collaborative Learning
  • Authentic Learning

Managed Learning

Schools and teachers use management systems and tools to keep track of assignments, grades, and announcements. Communications to students, parents, and other stakeholders might also be included in such online platforms. Some examples include Schoology, Google Classroom, Blackboard, and Canvas. Students use these platforms to get assignments, submit work, and access files for learning tasks. Teachers manage these platforms, as well as monitor student growth and progress. Teachers maintain control of the processes and usage of the platform tools to manage the learning experiences.

Orchestrated Learning

Teachers are the orchestra directors of turning curriculum into learning experiences. They structure and provide assignments that students complete to grow academically. The tasks may vary from completing research, virtual lab experiments, posting responses to a discussion board, watching video tutorials, and completing foundational tasks through learning centers or stations. Students mostly work individually or with a teacher. Small group learning tends to be teacher structures for building knowledge or applying ideas. The teacher runs the show, while students follow their lead. Some examples include:

  • a group might jigsaw researching a topic and then filling out an online form or discussion board that everyone has access to.
  • the class practices a review of content through team play using a tool like Kahoot.
  • a virtual field trip is provided to the class to view sights and listen to virtual guide.

Collaborative Learning

Students lead the learning at this level of practice. Teachers plan a learning experience that empowers and requires students to be in charge of the work. Collaborative learning is based on where students’ skills are currently, then uses digital tools to support their growth individually and/or through the support of a peer team. Such student-centered work enables the teacher to facilitate thinking and coach growth that is personalized to each learner. Some examples include:

  • students participate in virtual centers or stations that include tasks that challenge learners based on their skill levels. Students are assigned a series of tasks with some choice of which ones to do.
  • teams use a collaborative space such as a shared google folder with docs for capturing meeting notes and/or slides and forms for crafting presentations based on survey data.
  • students attend a virtual field trip as part of gathering research notes. The experience includes a question session where students make deeper connections about the concepts based on the responses to their inquiries.
  • students participate in an online critique session (ie. Google Docs, Slides, or Hangout) about peer artifacts. The comment feature is used to post likes and suggested changes. Outside experts might be included in the feedback protocol.

Authentic Learning

Make learning public, and students will understand the value of the learning beyond subject curriculum. Students express their voice on issues and ideas that come from the world beyond their classroom, even at times beyond their building. Making learning public is important for students to understand the connections between the academic expectations and the applications to real world practices. These experiences include:

  • publication of student work on an online website such as a classroom blog, school webpage, or outside organization website.
  • stream student presentations through Youtube on topics that are meaningful to the local community and other audiences.
  • Facilitate a discussion with a public audience using an online discussion board, Google Hangout, Zoom, or Twitter Chat.

Here are some of tools to explore:

  • Blogs: Blogger (Google), WordPress, Edublog, Weebly
  • Wikis: WikiDot, Google Sites, PBWorks EduHub
  • Social Media: Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Vimeo
  • Classroom Platforms: Schoology, Google Classroom, Blackboard CourseSites
  • Podcasts: iTunes and Spotify
  • Live Stream presentations: Youtube or Twitter

There is much attention paid to Managed and Orchestrated Learning when using Blended Learning. This could be attributed to the understanding that for many teachers Blended Learning is a fairly new instructional approach. As learners, educators, like any profession, tend to start with what can be done without changing too much the practices that have brought them success. What has been accomplished by teachers with Managed and Orchestrated Learning is an important achievement of change in itself; yet these accomplishments should not be an end goal.

Time for Change is Now

Today’s students are ready to use digital tools for complex and collaborative learning experiences and to have a voice in the world beyond their schools. Educators with some Blended Learning practices can leverage what they’ve learned combined with student understanding of the digital world, ie. online gaming, social media, and news sites, to hone deep learning experiences through Collaborative Learning and Authentic Learning. Give students voice and practice with tackling 21st Century Learning tasks for public audiences. Start with the early years, and the result will be a new crop of students who are deeply skilled to do so much more than any previous generation.

Empowering Students with Strong Collaboration Skills

What really is Collaboration?

Collaboration is an important 21st Century skill that is of critical need for our students as the future participants of industry, entrepreneurial opportunities, education, and government. Collaboration is a valuable commodity that in its appearance seems more art than science, when the opposite is just as true.

Here are three definitions of Collaboration:

[T]o work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor” – Merriam-Webster

The action of working with someone to produce something.” – Oxford Living Dictionary

Conflict resolution strategy that uses both assertiveness and cooperation to seek solutions advantageous to all parties.” – Business Dictionary


Partnership for 21st Century Learning, an organization that addresses a variety of areas, including Education, defines Collaboration as:

  • Demonstrate ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams
  • Exercise flexibility and willingness to be helpful in making necessary compromises to accomplish a common goal
  • Assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member

Working together for a common goal can be more challenging than it would appear. A common example is group work. One or two team members  do the work while other teammates are either not included in doing the interesting tasks; or they choose to stand aside, content to let the others do all the work, before showing up to share in the credit.

These occurrences are not unique to student teams. There are many stories where adults felt excluded from doing the interesting work, or having a voice in the decisions. There are also people who take credit for the work done by others. One solution is to teach the Science of Collaboration to students so that they become skillful users by the time they enter colleges and careers.

Science of Collaboration

Often collaboration is presented as something that we just do. Put students into groups. Some how, sometimes magically, they work together. If there are no arguments, everyone takes on tasks, and work is completed, collaboration must be going well. This is not collaboration. It’s parallel play.

Collaboration is at its best when decisions are not easily made because there are a diversity of ideas. Everyone wants their voice to be heard. People are effective cat herders. Functioning in this environment and coming out with ideas larger than the group and decisions are made with complete support and understanding by the team requires explicit tools and skills for effective collaboration.

Collaboration, as with all 21st Century Skills, should be taught, coached, and assessed with the same thoughtful considerations as done with content of an academic course. Putting students into teams an expecting effective and thoughtful collaboration is like rolling a ball to new recruits and expecting them to play football or basketball at a high level of skill and strategic thinking. Not likely meeting expectations.

1st Steps for Classroom/School Culture of Collaboration

The methods and decisions for creating a Collaborative Culture in a classroom, school, and organization are many, and difficult. One major obstacle is building buy-in for a common understanding. Before implementing strategies that support collaboration, a common path must be chosen and followed. Here are three practical steps towards moving in a common and collaborative direction =>

Step One: Establish a working definition

Take time to research the purpose and value of Collaboration. Explore different definitions, such as from the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, and then adopt or craft one with all relevant stakeholders.

Step Two: Adopt a guiding structure and/or guide that defines quality of practice

There are resources to be found, evaluated, and used to design how a culture of Collaboration should look like in a classroom or school.

  • Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21)
    Find many resources here from blog articles, such as this one, to rubrics. There is much to explore and consider for use in designing an approach to collaboration:
    FrameworkBlog PostsResources: 21st Century Skills Map – PDF doc
  • Henrico TIP Chart (PDF –Download)
    Henrico County Public Schools created a framework guide for how they teach, coach, and assess effective use of Collaboration and other 21st Century Skills. The TIP Chart is used by teachers to reflect on how they are teaching and coaching Collaboration, and how students should be applying the skills as part of the learning experiences.
    The progression from left to right moves from teacher directed to student-led. Because of the depth in application of collaboration, the learning cycle from Developing to Target is continuous.

Step Three: Design a Coaching Chart that defines observable behaviors

Coaching Collaboration is a Three-Way street. Growth occurs based on feedback from the teacher, peers, and self-reflection. Using a rubric might help by describing what Collaboration looks like and does not look like. This approach can lead to assessment of the practice. I’ve noticed from experiences with many schools that teachers and students struggle with how best to use rubrics without other supports.

Coaching Charts is such a resource that supports skill development with concrete and observable descriptors of behaviors. Here is one example from a school in Michigan:

The Coaching Chart can be used by students for independent self-reflection, and for supporting and giving feedback to their peers. Teachers use the chart to coach students on how to use the chart as a support tool for the team, and to give feedback on how a student is progressing. Once in place, strategies that depend on Collaboration can be monitored and evaluated for success by the teacher and students.


There are many strategies that rely on effective use of Collaboration skills. Defining and building a framework for Collaboration, and implementing a guide and a Coaching Chart all create a context for students to work with others that intentionally teach, coach, and assess Collaboration.

Below is a list of various strategies and tools that when used within this intentional context, the learning experiences can be deeper and more productive. Students are no longer going through the motions of an activity. They are empowered to monitor and support the success of the learning experiences.

  • Communication for Collaboration
    • Elbow Partners
      This tried and true activity is a quick way to get students into discussion pairs, maximizing time on task. If students sit in pairs or quads, they can conveniently turn to their neighbor who is their designated partner. There can also be a “Left” and “Right” Elbow partner with quads.
    • Mediation Process
      This 4-step guide teaches and supports conflict resolution by students. Teachers do not intervene until the 3rd step. Read this article for details.
    • Talk Moves
      Provide learners with this list of talking prompts that address a variety of conversation responses. Some areas include framing a respectful disagreement or agreement to asking clarifying and probing questions. Explore the options in more details in this article.
  • Feedback Prompts
    • “Be Constructive, Specific, and Kind”
      This is how critiques of work products should happen. Yet without guidance, the feedback can turn into an open dumping of disconnected ideas. The receiver can become overwhelmed and be unable to hear anything useful. Clear starter stems, as seen with Talk Moves, helps set the frame for the feedback. The following starter statements teach how to give feedback that is constructive, specific, and kind.

      • I noticed… (or I like…)
      • I wonder…
      • What if…
  • Reading for Understanding Protocols
    • Say Something
      This reading protocol is a structured conversation for unpacking understanding of reading assignments. Learners dig into passages to share their thinking about the content.
  • Deeper Thinking/Reflection
    • Pause Time and Think Time
      Give learners time to collect and organized their thoughts before answering questions or sharing ideas in small groups and whole class. Explore this article for ideas: Extending the Silence.
    • Chalk Talk – Example OneTwo
      Use this silent activity for learners to explore their thinking along with others. The experience enhances awareness of ideas by others. The silent task of posting and responding to posted comments and questions promotes every voice to be heard.

For a more comprehensive list with details on strategies and tools,  go to this resource section on Collaboration.

PBL Resources to Build and Sharpen Practice

I was asked recently for some recommendations for books and articles to read about Project Based Learning. Sharing the list, I thought it would be beneficial to share the same list to everyone. This is not an exhaustive list. The intent is to provide one to give a range of access from those just starting out to others who want to deepen their understanding of PBL. If you have recommendations to add, please tweet them to me @JMcCarthyEdS or post in the comments below. Also, find many more PBL and ALE resources on this site as well.

Bonus resource for PBL Management: Extending the Silence

Resources on my website: http://openingpaths.org/blog/pbl-guide/
Below is a sneak peak of just some of what you’ll find:

 Also, for deep support of Differentiation, check out the book and companion site for So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation.

Talk Moves: Students Learn to Own Learning Conversations

Follow John McCarthy, EdS on Twitter at @JMcCarthyEdS. Check the resources on this site and here as well for So All Can Learn.

Talk Moves: Students Learn to Own Learning Conversations

In a science classroom at Marysville Middle School, the students in Amy Busen’s class are participating in an active conversation where they respond to each other’s comments. The interaction is not a traditional approach, where the conversation moves between the teacher and a handful of students like a ping-pong match, while everyone else watches. The dialog moves among the students, with the teacher picking up the thread with an insight sparked from a student or a question to shift the conversation. The topics are Science-based. I’ve also seen this same tool used in a Texas school district.

The process remains a work in progress. The students have a collection of conversation prompts taped to their tables as reference. They are called, the Talk Moves. Here is an ELL version on this site.

The Science teachers at Marysville learned and developed their practice around the Talk Moves through support by St. Clair County Regional Educational Service Agency, one of the ISDs in Michigan, as part of work on the Next Generation Science Standards. The way that Science teachers in Marysville are using them are as prompts for the students to use. This is significant. Having researched the Talk Moves, the various resources and references appear to focus on prompts for the teacher to ask students. Whereas the questions above are being framed for use by students.

These conversation prompts could be used in any discipline for subject area conversations that are student led. Consider the possibilities for how these tools could support student-run protocols like Socratic Seminar, Harkness Discussion, Tuning Protocols, and others.

Teach students the purpose, intent, and how to use these prompts. As students practice them, coach on the quality and choice for when they are used. Have students reflect on their own usage so that they internalize the appropriateness and effectiveness of these conversation tools.

How might the conversations in your classroom or meetings evolve by using the Talk Moves?

Presentations for AdvancED 2017-18

John McCarthy, EdS – follow on Twitter: @JMcCarthyEdS

View resources from book: So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation

Please explore the resources from my sessions for AdvancED at their international conferences. Please contact me if you have any questions or want to share ideas.

Managing Innovative Authentic Learning Experiences

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Planning and implementing innovative learning experiences at the unit design level can feel like a daunting task. If you’re reading this then I applaud your courage and growth mindset approach to “figure it out” so that learner interest stays at the center of all decisions. There are many innovative practices to implement such as Authentic Learning Experiences, Project Based Learning, Deeper Learning, and Design Thinking. Including each management component will support these innovative practices.

Yet a traditional unit design can be transformed, by parts, through using the management components listed below. Go slow to become smooth in these skills. Include some components, and then add to them unit by unit. The results will be students having opportunities to actively engage in the learning experiences, with greater access to curriculum complexity. Get comfortable with these management components so that students can experience engaging and substantive experiences.

Management Components

1. Driving Question
A DQ or Challenge statement is at the heart of an effective unit. Introduce the question on day one of the unit. The question posed is open-ended, requires higher order thinking to answer, and is answered by the final product(s) of the unit. A driving question is an integral part of Project Based Learning and Authentic Learning Experiences units. Review these articles for effective crafting of your DQ.

  1. Driving Question Basics
  2. Concept-Based Driving Questions

2. Entry Event
Units should be started with students becoming invested in the outcome and the experiences that lead up to the finale. A good entry event helps students see purpose and value in the academic unit, beyond that it’s required learning, or also known as “the Game called School.” Introduce the unit with a real-world connection and authentic audience. Connect the final unit product to the authentic purpose on day one.

  1. Video Conference with a client, expert, or witness
    Use Google Hangout, Skype, Zoom
  2. Conduct a field trip (in-person or virtual)
  3. Run students through a mini-scenario or case study that connects to the concepts.
    The Window Activity (Entry Event/Writing strategy) is one way to encourage connections.
    Here is a different example: Making the Declaration of Independence Come Alive: Break up Letter (Video)
    Strategy: Use Invisible Theater to get students to make important and/or startling connections.
    Watch the 1st 3 minutes for this Entry Event:

3. Need to Know (N2K) activity & related formative check-ins
Launch the N2K at the start of the unit so that students can share what they already know, and what they are interested in learning from the unit. This initial feedback session is revisited throughout the unit, as posted questions (need to knows) are answered, and new (and deeper) questions are submitted. Read this article for an in-depth look into N2K.

4. Build Real World Connections
Authentic Learning Experiences (ALE) is important for students to see the value of the curriculum. Real world connections builds context for understanding and deeper learning. There are several layers to effective ALEs:

  1. Authenticity = Lifelong Learners
    Authentic Learning practices are a necessary part of of learning. Here is a framework to help teachers thinking as they plan learning experiences.
  2. 4 Paths to Engaging Students: Authentic Purpose = Audience
    Edutopia Article and OP Article
    Step Two is deciding on the Authentic Purpose for applying the learning outcomes. These two articles explain a powerful way to connect real world purpose to content.
  3. 3 Degrees of Connecting to a Real World Audience
    A common request is how to find community members, organizations, experts, mentors, and clients. Here is a strategy used by a group, department, or whole staff to generate a list of networks. Also, keep in mind that another solution is to send out a short survey to parents. Find out their skills and experiences that they have to offer.
  4. 21st Century Skills Anchor Charts for Behavioral Norms

5. Learning Wall
Making learning transparent helps students know what is expected at the start. This is done with daily lessons when teachers post and read aloud the learning outcomes for that day’s lesson. A Learning Wall communicates about the entire unit. Refer to the appropriate components to students on a daily basis, whichever components is appropriate at the time. Making daily references makes the Learning Wall useful to connecting “that” day’s work to the unit big picture. Read this article for more about Learning Walls. Also check out this photo gallery of Learning Walls.
Post the following components in the area where the teacher starts instruction.

  1. Driving Question
  2. Need to Knows
  3. Calendar
  4. Learning Standards, Rubrics and Major Assignments
  5. Possible others: Norms, Mediation Process, and GSS Anchor Charts

6. Structures for coaching and supporting Teams
Teamwork both as an entire class and in small groups is important to academic learning and development of important professional skills of Collaboration and Communication. The following resources addresses several tools that can support a classroom professional learning culture (Norms) and strategies to develop a personalized system for empowering students to advocate for themselves with their peers and with teachers.

  1. Classroom or group Norms
    Norms exist informally, and typically do not support how classroom learning should be. Facilitate student-developed norms that support the classroom. The result are guidelines that students and teachers can hold each other accountable, because the students created them.

    1. Establishing a Culture of Student Voice
    2. Empower Student Voice Through Collaboration and Communication
  2. Mediation Process & related supports
    Adopt or adapt this Mediation Process at the start of school or new marking period. Teach and coach students on how to follow the steps. After early direct coaching for the initial issues that occur, students should be able to follow through with team members without assistance. This strategy is a proven process used in schools across the United States.
  3. Team formation support strategy
    Use these strategies to gather student-reported information about themselves. The depth of knowledge can help influence creating a balanced group assignments.

    1. Learning Preferences Cards
    2. How Learning Profiles can Strengthen Your Teaching
    3. Roles
      Include descriptions for each role. Ensure that each role has an academic responsibility. Include a supervisory responsibility for each role so that a student in not solely responsible for a portion of the work. Maintain “shared responsibility.”
    4. Contracts
      These sample contracts offer a variety of methods for student groups to agree on common practices, and hold each other accountable.

Activating student voice empowers learning via Volume 5.3 of Creative Teaching and Learning

7. Plan for incorporating student development of 21st Century Learner Skills

  1. Classroom Norms and GSS Anchor Chart(s)
    1. Empower Student Voice Through Collaboration and Communication
    2. The Skills Colleges and Employers Are Looking For
    3. GSS Anchor Charts examples, plus a Strategy Guide List (pdf)
      This is a treasure chest of models and strategies to make real a 21st Century professional learning classroom culture.
    4. Use the TIP Chart for teachers to reflect on “their” implementation of Global Success (21st Century) Skills
  2. Student reflection on practice and thinking activities
    (i.e.: protocols, journaling, and partner talks)

    1. Make Learning Last: How Diverse Learners Can Process Their Understanding
    2. Establishing a Culture of Student Voice
    3. Fostering Student Questions: Strategies for Inquiry-Based Learning
    4. Practice and reflect using team builder activities (i.e.: Teampedia)

For more information, read about Authentic Learning Experiences, and explore additional strategies.