If you want to help prepare students for the future, you must teach them to learn how to learn and how to be flexible and adapt to a new learning environment (Harapnuik, Thibodeaux, & Cummings, 2018). If it weren’t for the Digital Learning & Leading program through Lamar University and the COVA (Choice, Ownership, and Voice through Authentic learning) model, I don’t believe I would be close to completing a master’s Degree. It was never something I anticipated on achieving, with a math and science background, I didn’t believe a traditional master’s program including only writing papers would be a possibility for me. The first assignment I remember feeling initially overwhelmed by the abundance of choices, but then followed by relief. The relief of not having to write a paper because I was given the choice to present the information on any platform. I decided to create a PowerPoint which I turned into a video. I had never done a voice-over or written a script, so it was a new endeavor. I quickly realized through choice, I was learning more by making this video project. By not writing a traditional paper, I not only learned about the content of the class but how to use technology to make a video. Looking back, I constructed a very primitive video, but spending long hours and weekends on this assignment, I felt an accomplishment. The COVA model it is not about choosing the easiest path, but combining what you know with what can learn by using choice to take ownership and authenticate the learning process.
Challenges Create Genuine Change
The innovation plan of blended learning I created has evolved over the past year and a half. The authentic innovation plan course pushed me so far out of my comfort zone with writing a literature review and editing a video, I wasn’t sure my sanity would ever return. However, having put so much work into my innovation plan, and understanding the necessary steps to put this plan into action, made it easier to implement. It is important to do something you have never done before to accomplish a goal that you have not previously accomplished (McChesney, Covey, & Huling, 2012). There are many excellent ideas that begin with momentum and positive intentions for success, but lack stamina for long-term change. Having the tools to create a blended learning model, I was able to build on goals to pursue real change and not get caught up in the day to day whirlwind.
Heart, Sweat, & Results
Initially, I wanted to implement blended learning once a week. I used the video resources provided by the district curriculum Ebook along with teacher-led instruction. I allowed the students to choose between self-paced online instruction, or teacher-led instruction, to learn the course material. The videos I embedded from the Ebook in the LMS (Learning Management System) were boring and long, so few students selected the online modules to work at their own pace. After getting student feedback, I understood that the videos provided were not engaging and I began making my own videos, not weekly but daily. At first, developing this course took an enormous amount of time to create daily videos and authentic projects. It is challenging to transition from giving the students control for their learning because this is more time consuming (Harapnuik, Thibodeaux, & Cummings, 2018). After this past year, all the hard work I have put into transitioning my implementation model and using the COVA model proved worth it. All of my research came to life, as this effective use of technology allowed students to be more engaged, improved student’s behavior and transformed my teaching methods.
Leading Change Beyond The Classroom
During the developing stages of the innovation plan of blended learning, it was difficult to imagine how to extend these ideas from my classroom to other teachers throughout the district. I decided for this to be most effective I would promote organizational change organically. We are social beings, and being a part of a community is an essential part of the learning process. (Harapnuik, Thibodeaux, & Cummings, 2018). I realized through my community I can present my classroom innovations when the situation presented itself, which occured naturally. For instance, another teacher in my department asked how I handled a specific students behavior. Over twenty years ago, Alfie Kohn (1993) stated that when students tune out or act out, it is not a direct cause of burn out, but instead students feel lack of control and feel powerless. When students are given choices, they find the topics more interesting, can improve decision-making skills, and are able to learn the material on a deeper level. I discussed how blended learning had improved behavior in my toughest classes. Allowing students to work at their own pace provided an environment where students were more focused on their work without an audience to entertain. I showed him the free technology that he could use to make videos and import content. I was surprised when he came back a few weeks later excited about how much blended learning had improved all his student’s behaviors. In addition, I showed the district technology specialist the modules I created for my students and explained my innovation plan. These conversations led to being asked by her to train teachers on technology this summer. Although this public speaking opportunity will be nerve wracking I am thrilled to be given the opportunity to teach and share ideas with other teachers. I am fortunate to be part of a community that values change to improve our students learning. I realized through this year, that sometimes the most effective changes don’t come from planned solicitations but come from simple conversations about my passion for improving students learning.
Good Learning Philosophies Don't Change
My learning philosophy has not changed since this program has started, but this program has provided more solutions to implement constructivism through problem-based learning and experiential learning (Bates, 2014). Next year I want to take the COVA model further by creating more differentiated projects and modules for students to work at different levels or advance to higher levels. I witnessed that this hands-on approach to learning has brought out a genuine curiosity and passion for students. I am both training teachers this summer and attending training to learn how to use technology to provide differentiation in my classroom. I have implemented some of this differentiation and it does have some disadvantages that I will need to work on. I believe constructivism learning philosophy enhances students understanding of concepts, but it does have its disadvantages in the K-12 public school setting. Students are more concerned about their grades than the learning, so I will have to find a way to meet students with fair expectations. Another concern is when I provide students with choices, some students feel overwhelmed because they want to be told exactly what steps needed to make high marks. When students are focused on step-by-step instructions versus owning their learning, they have a more difficult time problem solving (Harapnuik, Thibodeaux, & Cummings, 2018). Although grades have no indication of success in the real-world, students are still expected to pass standardized tests and meet guidelines if they want to pursue college. I understand that students need guidelines, not step-by-step instructions, for students to understand the importance of being able to take ownership of their learning. Students need to realize that real learning occurs through hard work and problem-solving skills both necessary to succeed beyond traditional schooling.
COVA, CSLE, & Beyond
When we teach students to look for only one answer, we stop the learning process, which is the most intriguing part. (Thomas & Brown, 2011). Learning should be about allowing students to learn through organically solving a problem, not forcing a specific answer. To provide this educational mindset where students understand problem-solving and multiple solutions I believe the COVA model is critical. When students are encouraged to eliminate their own thoughts and ideas to pursue a specific answer, their curiosity and creativity disappear. Allowing students choices and the ability to own their own authentic work allows them to develop the skills necessary to learn effectively, in their own way. To accomplish this learning environment, I will continue to instill in students and teachers the importance of providing choices whenever possible to allow students opportunities to take ownership of their learning. Using a LMS to continue to build courses that allow students to work at their own pace, choose their path, and differentiated projects. When teachers and students understand that education is not about one-size fits all model, we can work together using the COVA model to provide a significant learning environment where students can thrive.
When developing projects and assignments it is important to give students choices so that they can find their voice and take ownership of their learning. Giving students choice is about understanding that the learning process is focused on the students learning, not on the teacher (Harapnuik, Thibodeaux, & Cummings, 2018). I have found ways to follow the curriculum while still providing students variations of how they learn the content. Often, I will give them flexibility with the software of their choice to show information they have learned, which adds authenticity to their learning. Recently, I developed a menu for my BIM (Business Information Management) course. I developed a way for students to have choices in explaining job interviewing skills. Through the interview menu project, I discovered the majority of students preferred the opportunity to work with a partner while using technology. When they completed the project, the students that chose to make a video with a partner, not only learned the basic skills of proper interview etiquette, but they also learned how to write a script, edit footage, and properly submit a video. Students that preferred working with others, were much more engaged, excited, and even offered to help other partners. At the same time, students that preferred to work independently worked at their own pace displaying their knowledge through a presentation software. Allowing students to have choices not only made learning fun, but increased their understanding of the content. My goals next year are to provide even more authentic learning opportunities allowing students the flexibility to explain information through videoing, blogging, or other projects to give them a voice.
Leading & Teaching
In addition to setting goals within my classroom, I set goals to educate and lead colleagues to create a significant learning environment. As a head of the department, I spent the past year educating colleagues the importance of using opportunities to expose students to real-world situations, showing them how to prevent schools from killing creativity, effectively using technology, and the growth mindset. The luxury of teaching an elective provides much more flexibility than the strict curriculum of core classes. Our monthly meetings were an inspiring time to discuss how students were using the 3-D printer to design key chains in Robotics, developing and cooking healthy affordable meals in a life skills class, or students using their language fluency to announce fashion design in a runway show for Spanish class. The truth is every good teacher wants to help students learn, but only the great teachers push them outside of their comfort zone to provide real growth.
The Challenge is Real Learning
For students to use the COVA model in a significant learning environment they need to not just be an active participant but make the meaningful connections (Harapnuik, Thibodeaux, & Cummings, 2018). Most students have been taught to passively learn, memorize facts, and take standardized tests. The biggest challenge is making the shift from this traditional educational system and exposing them to what real learning looks like. Students are comfortable with learning minimal amounts if they are rewarded with high grades. They want to answer questions with multiple choices with an exact answer because that is what they have been trained to do. It feels like an uphill battle exposing students to real scenarios to gain problem-solving skills or using their creativity. Undoing this mindset of learning through a traditional setting is the most challenging part of transitioning to using COVA to create a significant learning environment.
When I began my search for choosing a Master’s program I knew it would be critical to choose a program that interested me. When I read about Digital Learning and Leading it seemed intriguing, so I applied for the program and got accepted. When I registered I decided to only pay for the first course, because I lacked confidence. I didn’t believe at the time, that I was smart enough to pass a graduate course. The program is structured perfectly and learning about the growth mindset in the first course provided the necessary insight assuring hard work and persistence would lead towards success. (Dweck, 2006). I realized that true success comes from working hard, not showcasing your strengths. There is nothing I would change about this past year, but if I could have told myself something before I started it would be to take my own advice. I often tell my students that they can do anything they put their mind too and if there is a will, there is a way. This advice came full circle this past year. This has been one of the toughest years of my life, working weekends, increased anxiety, and many sleepless nights, but I wouldn’t have changed a moment. I experienced more personal and professional growth through this program than I could have ever imagined. I didn’t learn how to pass a course, I gained invaluable tools on how to make real changes and the confidence to fail forward in striving to become a life-long learner.
Bates, T. (2014, July 14). Learning theories and online learning. Retrieved from https://www.tonybates.ca/2014/07/29/learning-theories-and-online-learning/
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House
Harapnuik, D. K., Thibodeaux, T. N., & Cummings, C. D. (2018). Choice, Ownership, and Voice through Authentic Learning Opportunities. Retrieved from http://www.harapnuik.org/?page_id=7291
Kohn, A. (1993, September). Alfiekohn.org Retrieved from Choices for Children: http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/choices-children/
McChesney, C., Covey, S., & Huling, J. (2012). The 4 disciplines of execution: Achieving your wildly important goals. New York, NY: Free Press.