Iteration is Key: Cautionary Tales on Innovative Classroom Models
March, 2014 – Program Day Three
In February, I joined 19 Washington, D.C. PreK-12 public and charter school teachers on a trip to California for the first of our “travel and learn” experiences as part of CityBridge Foundation’s Education Innovation Fellowship (EIF). In my Blend My Learning blog last month, I wrote about this trip and the nine schools we visited at the forefront of blended and personalized learning to see how we could bring pieces of these innovative school and classroom models to public schools in D.C.
This month for our third program day session, continuing with the “travel and learn” portion of EIF, we toured two D.C. charter schools for a closer look at how personalized learning at those sites. This intensive study of blended and personalized learning is in preparation for the “design and innovate” portion of the Fellowship, when each Fellow will design and lead a personalized learning pilot during summer school.
We visited Ingenuity Prep Public Charter School (where I work), currently serving grades PreK3-K (with plans to expand to 8th), and the high school at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School. During both visits, we heard from the schools’ founders, administrators, and teacher leaders, who discussed the challenges and successes they encountered with their models.
Both leadership teams talked about learning some tough lessons and realizing the need to pivot. At E.L. Haynes, the high school started out with one-to-one laptops for each of their students. Principal Caroline Hill said that the one-to-one laptop model was messy to start, and her team quickly realized just how intentional they needed to be around students’ use of hardware. This intentionality around technology usage, and the need to maximize time on task, became a guiding principle for the Hill and her team in their second year.
At Ingenuity Prep, which opened this past August, the co-founders discussed the initial model of their Kindergarten literacy class, which consisted of station rotations in phonics, guided reading, digital content and handwriting. For all rotations, teachers grouped students according to their levels on the STEP reading assessment. However, they realized that grouping in this way sometimes limited opportunities to differentiate for students’ writing needs. With this in mind, they shifted some teacher instructional responsibilities and modified the rotational schedule to allow for the regrouping of all students by writing needs during a separate writing block. This iteration in and evolution of the classroom’s instructional structures has provided for an even more personalized experience for Ingenuity Prep’s students.
The lessons learned from these experiences speak to the iterative process that the Fellows have studied in great depth over the past few months. Amidst the excitement of launching a new school or redesigning your classroom, it is imperative to frequently and rigorously self-assess, self-reflect, and iterate to meet the needs of all students.
As the EIF moves to the next phase, the Fellows will use the knowledge gained from visits to nearly a dozen schools, as well as the principles of design thinking, to identify and solve a problem at their own schools as they develop their blended learning pilots.
To stress this idea of the iterative process, the March program day concluded with a workshop where the Fellows reflected on how to use design-thinking principles to problem solve in the face of setbacks. While the Fellowship does challenge educators to “think outside the box,” the program is not about innovation as an end in itself. Rather, the Education Innovation Fellowship’s goal is to empower teachers with a set of skills, like iterating on a prototype model, to creatively solve difficult problems and be impactful teacher-leaders in their schools.