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Knowing Ourselves as Learners – Using the Learner Sketch Tool

As the Expanded Learning Opportunities Coordinator at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island, my goal is to help students design their own learning experiences based on their passions. When I first meet students I interview them to learn more about who they are as a person and as a learner.

Oddly enough when I ask students to describe their learning strengths and challenges, they look at me with blank stares, as though no one before has ever asked them that question. This shocks me because I deeply believe that unless we know ourselves as learners, we can’t learn about the world, nor impact it’s direction.

Luckily, the Q.E.D. Foundation has created The Learner Sketch Tool. This free online tool helps students better understand their learning “profiles,” and advocate for learning that builds upon their strengths and supports their challenges. Educators can review students’ results and develop learning environments that respond to students’ profiles.

User Experience

In order to be able to encourage students to use The Learner Sketch Tool, I wanted to have first hand experience using it. For my first step I was asked to respond to a series of statements by identifying them as “This is so me,” “Not me,” or I could leave the statement in the middle to indicate a “sometimes” or neutral response.Intro page


While the user experience felt simple and game-like, I appreciated how the process is actually quite complex as each learner response assists the tool in identifying the learner’s strengths and weaknesses in regard to:

• Attention – Mental Energy, Production Controls, Processing Controls
• Complex thinking
• Language – Understanding Written Language, Understanding Spoken Language, Expressing ideas through writing, Expressing ideas through speaking
• Memory – Active Working Memory, Long-Term Memory
• Movement Control
• Getting Along with Others
• Spatial Thinking
• Keeping Track of Time/Order

After categorizing all of the descriptors, I then had the opportunity to understand my strengths and weaknesses through written and video content, review strategies for enhancing my learning, create a growth plan, and share my plan.

Construct page

As an example, I listed the statement “I apply logic and reasoning to most challenges,” in the “Not me” category. In return, the Learner Sketch Tool told me that this means that I may find it challenging to:
• Understand how things work
• Identify exaggerations or misleading statements
• Defend your views with facts and evidence
• Brainstorm possible approaches to something
• Come up with new angles on an issue
• Decide which ideas are best

Strategies page

As an indecisive person who tends to make decisions based on gut feelings, this tool certainly captured my challenges. The tool then provided a series of recommendations based on my area of growth, which included the suggestion, “Take a class in improvisation to practice working with the unexpected.” While I may not go run to sign up for an improvisation class, if I were to share my tool results with a teacher, he could use this suggestion to integrate improvisational techniques into his lesson.

Plan page

When I identified myself as having a strength with movement control, the tool recommended that I build off my strengths by sitting on an exercise ball while studying or rewarding myself with physical activities (such as going for a run after completing your homework). This is a wonderful reminder that when I need to take a break from computer work taking a walk will be much more rejuvenating than surfing the web.

Applying the Tool

Beyond using The Learner Sketch Tool for my own personal awareness and encouraging my students to do the same, I think this tool can make an a big impact in a variety of education settings.

While the tool is certainly not a replacement for ongoing observation, feedback, and reflection in an educational setting, the Learner Sketch Tool provides a useful jumping off point for students to understand and communicate their own learning profiles and for teachers to start with a baseline understanding of their students’ strengths and challenges.

In fact, it’s a great place to begin a dialogue between students and teachers about learning profiles: we each have one, it changes over time and based on context, and we can strategize to increase our effectiveness.

These days, many administrators and teacher leaders are encouraging teachers to differentiate teaching and learning in their classroom to provide a more personalized and student-centered learning environment. While most teachers would agree about the importance of differentiation it can also feel overwhelming to know where to begin.

One simple way to start is to have your students take the Learner Sketch Tool and take note of any gaps between their results and your instructional practice. You might realize that the majority of the students in your class identify themselves as having a challenge expressing their ideas through speaking but your main teaching strategy is group discussions. Or you might work together with your students to create a graph of all of the students’ responses to a particular question. This may lead to discussion about learning strategies, how famous people have used their challenges in a positive way, how schools may be designed with certain learners in mind, the list goes on!

No matter how you think you will use the tool with in your own life or in your classroom, I encourage you to give a try and get to know yourself as a learner.



The Changing Face of Education?

I just returned from the invigorating and inspiring annual International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) conference, where this year’s focus included “blended”* along with “online” learning.  iNACOL Executive Director Susan Patrick spoke almost wonderingly at the explosion of the organization, from seventeen people who met together ten years ago to the more than twenty three hundred who gathered to share, compare, listen to and learn from each other.

Just a few years ago authors Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn predicted online learning would become the disruptive force that would change the face of education (Disrupting Class, 2008). Scott Benson, Program officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, noted that the Foundation’s Small Schools initiative attempted an education reform that wasn’t sustained once the funding went away. By contrast, he noted the blended and online learning demand is growing whether there is grant support funding or not. (To be fair, K12 online programs began with grant-funded programs like Virtual High School, now the VHS Collaborative, which began in 1996.) Still, his point is well taken: demand is driving this education initiative, and educators are doing their best to keep up, and the iNACOL conference is finely tuned to assist.

Sessions address key elements of this emerging educational context, including personalization, competency-based learning, policy drivers and barriers, funding possibilities, and emerging technologies. Presenters are practitioners, product developers, entrepreneurs, policy lobbyists, experts, and learners. Conversations are the norm, including “campfire” style “Meet the Expert” sessions. I confess I was most interested in discovering kindred spirits actively pursuing practices aligned with QED’s Theory of Change for Transformational Learning, and am happy to report I found several, such as the folks at Educurious, Jobs for the Future, and  Boston Day and Evening Academy, all of whom are helping ensure that this latest “redesign” is not simply more of the same with a different name and face (some of you  may remember filmstrips-on-video…)

At our session on Personalizing for Proficiency: Pedagogy and Practices for Student Centered Learning, Elizabeth Cardine and I highlighted QED’s free (everybody’s favorite word, alternatively known as “OER” – open education resources) Learner Sketch Tool,  an online tool designed to provide insight and information for learners and educators to improve learning outcomes. We also unveiled the beta version QED’s newest tool, the Transformational Change Alignment Analysis. (We’d love to hear your feedback!)

I particularly appreciated the spirit of commitment and collaboration that permeated the conference, reminding me of Fenway High School’s motto: Work Hard. Be Yourself. Do the Right Thing. After all, if we aren’t here to do the right thing by ALL – each and every – learner, those learners will take their engagement elsewhere. Guaranteed.

If you missed this year’s conference, check out the upcoming webinars, join in this growing international conversation about the future of learning, and mark your calendar now for the 2014 Symposium. Your voice as much as any other will help shape next steps for learners and learning!

* With a proliferation of competing terminology cluttering up the conversations, iNACOL’s latest publication, Mean What You Say: Defining and Integrating Personalized, Blended and Competency Education by Susan Patrick, Kathryn Kennedy and Allison Powell arrived just in time.

10 Facilitator Moves for Adult Learning


Word association quiz.

When someone pairs “School” and “Learning” who is the first learner you think of?

A student? A class of students? If so, you are like the majority of people. And for good reason — the student learner is the most important point of focus for schools.

However, capitalizing on the unique interests, affinities, and personalities of students to cultivate a rich learning environment isn’t an accident. It requires a focus on the ecosystem of learning at the adult level as well as at the student level. Fortunately, nurturing vigorous learning at the adult level has a mutually beneficial impact on the student learners.

Leading_for_Powerful_LearningWhile numerous tomes offer recipes for mining student data, creating professional learning communities, and implementing data driven instruction, fewer focus on the culture of learning or how to foster a culture that endures, inspires, and develops internal leadership. Authors Angela Breidenstein, Kevin Fahey, Carl Glickman, and Grances Hensley have filled this void with “Leading for Powerful Learning, A Guide for Instructional Leaders” from Teachers College Press.

The book identifies three types of adult learners (Instrumental, Socializing, and Self-Authoring) as well as methods and practices for facilitating authentic learning for each of these types (with a goal of helping them move toward Self-Authoring).  The book includes some protocols for use in meetings.

The entire book is well worth the read, however, of particular interest are 10 facilitator moves that “influence how teams, departments, and faculties learn.” Below are the 10 moves as stated in the book without the accompanying descriptions. For a more in-depth analysis check out the book. You won’t be disappointed.

Facilitator Move 1: Openings are important.

Facilitator Move 2: Closings are also important.

Facilitator Move 3: Understand why you are using a particular protocol.

Facilitator Move 4: Plan the protocol.

Facilitator Move 5: Explain the protocol.

Facilitator Move 6: Facilitate the entire protocol. 

Facilitator Move 7: Don’t be afraid to facilitate.

Facilitator Move 8: Never forget to debrief the process. 

Facilitator Move 9: Find a place for negative questions and comments. 

Facilitator Move 10: Trust the process and trust the group. 

Resources for Talking to Your Kids About the Case of Trayvon Martin

apple diversity

With Zimmerman’s innocence decided, the underlying issues of race and profiling continue to ignite quarreling responses and catalyzing debates about race in America. Here are some helpful sources that can help you talk to your kids about the issues surrounding these debates.

In an NPR post entitled, The Talk: What Did You Tell Your Kids After the Zimmerman Verdict, speakers share their stories about informing their children about race.

NPR code switch posted twitter responses from parents sharing how they explained the verdict to their kids. Twitter Reacts To Zimmerman Acquittal

The Wall Street Journal offers tips on how to use this case as a, “vehicle for change”. Five Tips on Talking to Kids About Race and the Zimmerman Verdict

In an interview on HLN Raising America, founder and editor of MyBrownBaby.com Denene Millner, Radio Host Bert Weiss and Ryan Smith discuss their ideas about race and how skins matters in America. Talking Race and Trayvon Martin With Your Kids

Learn how to “plant seeds of peace” with suggestions from the Huffington Post, How to Talk to Your Child About Trayvon Martin’s Death

The dualities of race has undoubtedly played a huge role in the reaction we are seeing across the states since the verdict. As Ghandi is falsely attributed as saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” By teaching our children to move beyond superficialities, like race, we are equipping a generation to transform a society into a more tolerant and equitable multi-racial community. We desperately need this progress in America.

The below section is by the prolific Larry Ferlazzo, who allowed us to repost his piece, “Thoughtful Resources on Trayvon Martin Case and Verdict.” You can visit his site for more education related resources and check out his regular column at Education Week.

The verdict is in, and here are some thoughtful additions to The Best Resources For Lessons On Trayvon Martin. Feel free to suggest additions:

On The Killing Of Trayvon Martin By George Zimmerman is from The Atlantic.

Trayvon Martin killing: what if George Zimmerman were black? is from The Telegraph.

Thank You, Rachel Jeantel is from The Nation.

One of the Saddest Stories Ever: I Am Rachel Jeantel

I Don’t Feel Your Pain is from Slate.

Trayvon Martin In Death: Whose Story Is It? is from NPR.

Fear of a Black President is from The Atlantic.

The Zimmerman Jury Told Young Black Men What We Already Knew is from Gawker.

Photo Credit: ~Urban Prowler~ (www.anshumm.com) via Compfight cc

The Motivation Equation

Screen Shot 2013-07-11 at 2.11.26 PMThe upcoming new ibook by Kathleen Cushman, “The Motivation Equation,” stands to expand on her pioneering work in leveraging students’ voices in shaping learning environments, pedagogical practices, and transforming how we talk about learning. And thank goodness.

Often missing from our education discourse is, ironically, the most important element of our education system: the learners.

In this newest endeavor (you can read an early release of the book for a limited time here), Kathleen seeks to provide information on “designing lessons that set minds free.” QED’s Chief Education Officer, Kim Carter, had this to say after reading the book:

Motivation is the holy grail of learning. Who doesn’t believe if learners are motivated, they have a much greater likelihood of successful learning?  From the Introduction’s explanation that “motivation is not something you have at the start” to its Appendices packed with additional resources, The Motivation Equation is brilliant on so many levels.  Let me name four:

  1. Kathleen’s synthesis of the essential mind, brain and education science related to motivation into 8 steps or conditions is mind-bogglingly clear.
  2. More importantly, the 8 steps are readily accessible and practical.
  3. The Motivation Equation is rich with student voices – offering a “unique ‘trialogue’ among students, teachers, and learning scientists” – which anchor the steps and the research in familiar realities.
  4. The Motivation Equation is the best (ever) use of the e-book medium that I have seen to date. Unerring integration of sound and video clips, call-out boxes for brief bios and research notes, links to additional resources, survey templates, and protocols for engaging learners in exploring their own motivation represent a treasure trove of value-added resources.

Still need convincing to check it out? Visit WKCD‘s new website, How Youth Learn, for research highlights and videos of student voices.

Narrowing in on the Learner

Do you want to ….

  1. Boost your students’ self esteem?
  2. Keep them engaged?
  3. Have an alternative to testing your students to death?
  4. More specifically support their needs?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions read the infographic below which is all about competency based learning.

Source: Digital Learning Now 

How Youth Learn: Ned’s GR8 8

This video needs no introduction. Just watch it and then file it under — “When Student Voices Align With Research From the Science of Learning.”

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