Education Innovation Fellowship: Effective Practices Gleaned From Summer Pilot Projects
July Program Day
“The people that aren’t here for summer school are really missing out,” Cindy, a spunky seventh grader tells me. “I’ve learned so much more this summer because I get one-on-one time with Mr. Johnson, and get to work at my own pace. School wasn’t like that before.”
When was the last time you heard a student boast this much about summer school?
Joshua Johnson is one of the 20 CityBridge Education Innovation Fellows, all PreK-12 public and public charter school educators in Washington, D.C., who are exploring the vast world of blended and personalized learning. My role has been to document and share the promising practices the Fellows discover during their yearlong experience. The Fellows are now testing their own pilot projects in the lower-stakes environment of summer school.
These projects have been months in the making: The Fellowship kicked off in January 2014 with an intensive study in blended learning, exposing the Fellows to the new possibilities it brings to students. We saw classrooms in California maximizing teacher impact through organized, intentional use of digital content, schools in Detroit abandoning the traditional pacing guide in favor of competency-based learning, and schools here in D.C. experimenting with these models as well. Full of ideas to bring to D.C. schools and classrooms, the Fellows then spent April through June designing blended learning pilot projects to launch this summer.
Below I’ve outlined three of the promising practices in the design of Joshua’s summer pilot. Many of these ideas he gleaned from the other classrooms he visited in California, Detroit, and D.C. For his summer pilot, Joshua is teaching a science-focused English Language Arts class to sixth and seventh graders at Center City PCS – Brightwood Campus.
1.) Office hours embedded into a station rotation model
In his classroom, Joshua has three skill-equivalent cohorts of students rotating through four different stations:
• self-paced online work on the LMS Blendspace,
• independent reading,
• collaborative project-based learning, and
• small group instruction.
When the small group instruction station is free, Joshua leverages this freed-up time to pull students for one-on-one tutoring sessions, plan lessons, or meet with a teacher or administrator.
2.) Teacher-monitored independent reflections
We all know that sustained focus during independent work time is challenging. To address this, Joshua’s students spend the last 5 minutes during their independent workstation reflecting on their work habits. They do this via a Google Form that they then submit to Joshua for review. This practice teaches students to reflect on their independent work time, preparing them to be successful, independent learners.
3.) Parking lot for lingering questions
When a teacher dramatically redesigns his classroom, his students will likely have small questions that might derail instructional time. To ensure that these questions don’t interrupt his small group instruction, Joshua requires students to post their questions for him to the “parking lot.” He then answers them during office hours, lunch, or after class. Many students I asked found this resource to be particularly useful in maximizing their time on task.
Joshua’s classroom redesign is just one example of the promise blended and personalized learning brings to students’ educational experiences. I asked Cindy, who struggled during this past school year, if she’d like to see this model in her classroom in the fall, to which she smiled and responded, “Definitely! Not everyone learns at the same pace…We get to experience new ways of learning. This is much for comfortable.”